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Court Decides Termination of Parental Rights Proceeding

A New York Family Lawyer said by amended petition, the petitioner alleges that the child is an abused and neglected child within the meaning of Family Court Act. The petition further alleges that the respondent woman is the mother of the child and that the man, a non-respondent in this proceeding, is the child’s putative father. More specifically, the amended petition alleges, in pertinent part, that the court found that woman has abused and neglected her son based upon the fact that her daughter drowned in a bathtub while in the care of the mother. The respondent mother admitted to leaving the child unattended in the tub of water for several minutes and she was ultimately convicted of manslaughter for the death of the child. The court entered a dispositional order directing the respondent to complete domestic violence counseling, individual counseling and family counseling, but she has failed to do so. In addition, a termination of parental rights proceeding is pending against the mother in Family Court with respect to the child Sean. In addition, the petitioner alleges that the respondent mother suffers from a chronic and severe mental illness and that, due to that mental illness, the child is at risk of becoming an abused and neglected child.

A New York Child Custody Lawyer said the initial appearance upon the petition was conducted on April 3, 2002. On that date, the respondent mother appeared before another Family Court Judge who assigned the counsel to the respondent, issued an order paroling child custody to her putative father and directed that the respondent have only supervised visitation with the child. Thereafter, the Commissioner filed the amended petition.

A Nassau County Family Lawyer said that prior to the filing of the child protective petition, a petition had been filed against the mother pursuant to Social Services Law by the Children’s Services, an authorized child care agency, seeking termination of her parental rights to her son, an older half-sibling of the child. That petition alleged that the mother was mentally ill within the meaning of Social Services Law and that she had permanently neglected her son within the meaning of Social Services Law. In connection with the termination of parental rights proceeding, the County court directed that the respondent woman be examined by a licensed psychologist on the staff of the Court Mental Health Services Clinic.

A Nassau County Child Custody Lawyer said an extensive fact-finding hearing upon the termination of parental rights petition was conducted before the County court. The petitioner called a psychologist and the Associate Director of the County Family Court Mental Health Services Clinic at the hearing. The psychologist testified that, based upon his review of relevant clinical and hospital records, which included previous reports of evaluations which have been conducted by both psychologists associated with the Mental Health Services Clinic at the time of their evaluations, as well as his interview of the respondent, he diagnosed her as being afflicted with Depressive Disorder—Not Otherwise Specified, alcohol abuse—in remission, cannabis abuse—in remission as well as Borderline Personality Disorder, all of which are diagnoses recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, an authoritative and widely used diagnostic tool. According to the psychologist, the respondent woman’s borderline personality disorder, which is a disorder situated between a diagnosis of neurosis and psychosis, is a long-standing disorder which he found to be a characterological problem, meaning it was a lifelong disorder which is developed during childhood, during a person’s developmental period and that she was afflicted with a fairly severe manifestation of personality disorder. The psychologist determined that the respondent woman lacked the capacity to provide proper care for her child given her psychological problems, that her parental capacity has been severely impacted by her personality deficits, and that her psychological disorders had led her into several highly dysfunctional interpersonal relationships, often involving abusive behavior. While she had been participating in therapy, the psychologist found that her parental capacity continued to be impaired and that her current level of insight into her deficits remains at best superficial, and she demonstrates no change through her involvement in psychotherapy.

According to the psychologist, psychotherapy was generally not effective in treating personality disorders, such as that with which the woman was afflicted, and that given the chronic and severe nature of her disorder and her long-standing deficits in insight, judgment and behavior, the mother’s prognosis for consistent recovery at this point is poor. Thus, the psychologist concluded that within a reasonable degree of clinical certainty, the respondent suffers from a mental disorder to the extent that the subject child, if returned to her care now or in the foreseeable future, would be at risk of becoming neglected, as would any child in her care.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the court determined in a lengthy decision that clear and convincing evidence established that the woman is mentally ill within the meaning of Social Services Law, that she was presently and for the foreseeable future unable, by reason of her mental illness, to provide proper and adequate care for her child, and that he would be at risk of becoming a neglected child were he returned to her care. Accordingly, the court entered an order which terminated the woman’s parental rights to the child and committed guardianship and child custody to the authorized agency and the Administration for Children’s Services for the purpose of adoption.

The petitioner has moved for summary judgment upon the child protective petition pursuant to Civil Practice Law and Rules, contending that the finding of mental illness made by the court in the termination of parental rights concerning the child conclusively establishes that the woman is mentally ill for purposes of the child protective proceeding. The Law Guardian for the child has filed papers supporting the Commissioner’s motion and the respondent has not filed papers in opposition to the motion.

Insofar as relevant to this proceeding, Family Court Act defines a neglected child as a child under the age of 18 whose physical, mental or emotional condition has been impaired or is in imminent danger of becoming impaired as a result of the failure of his or her parent to exercise a minimum degree of care in providing the child with proper supervision or guardianship by unreasonably inflicting or allowing to be inflicted harm, or a substantial risk thereof, or by any other acts of a similarly serious nature requiring the aid of the court. It is well established that a parent’s affliction with a mental illness which affects his or her ability to provide proper care and supervision for a child is a basis upon which to adjudicate a child to be neglected.

In the termination of parental rights proceeding concerning the child’s half-sibling, the respondent mother was evaluated by a court-appointed psychologist who testified at trial, as required by statute, and the respondent presented no expert testimony to contradict the testimony of the court-appointed psychologist. At the conclusion of the hearing, the court found by clear and convincing evidence that the woman suffers from an affliction with a mental disease or mental condition which is manifested by a disorder or disturbance in behavior, feeling, thinking or judgment to such an extent that if the child were placed or returned to her, the child would be in danger of becoming a neglected child as defined in the family court act.

Notably, while the respondent was examined by a court-appointed psychologist who testified in the termination of parental rights proceeding, in a child protective proceeding there is no requirement that there be a formal diagnosis that the parent is mentally ill, nor is there a requirement that the parent be evaluated and that a court take expert testimony, before a child may be found to be neglected by reason of a parent’s mental illness.

Home should be the safest place for any person especially children. Parents could protect their child the way nobody else can. If a parent does otherwise, a Queens County Family Lawyer together with a Queens County Child Custody Attorney from Stephen Bilkis and Associates can defend the child in the courtroom the way nobody else could.

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