Chelsey Marie Maywalt
38 Campbell L. Rev. 241 (2016)
ABSTRACT. Jane Smith had finally gotten her life back on track. Jane, a mother of two, had a checkered past of drug addiction and failure to properly care for her children. After a teacher reported suspicion of child neglect to the local Department of Social Services (DSS), DSS began an investigation of Jane and her two children. At the first hearing, the judge adjudicated the children “neglected” and ordered the children be placed in nonsecure custody. While the children were in nonsecure custody, the court and DSS planned to reunite Jane with her two children and maintain the family unit.
Eight months later, Jane and her lawyer believed she had made the required reasonable efforts to regain full custody of her children and avoid a cease reunification efforts order. Jane attended drug counseling classes, parenting classes, and sought full-time employment, but the court decided that reunification between Jane and her children was not the best course of action and entered an order ceasing reunification efforts between Jane and her children. The court cited what it found to be a lack of reasonable efforts made by Jane. Jane, trying to regain full custody of her children, filed a motion to appeal the cease reunification order on the grounds that the court lacked sufficient findings of fact to show that reunification between Jane and her children would be futile. Jane believed the deficient cease reunification order meant she could continue on the permanency planning track and eventually regain custody of her children.
Following the order to cease reunification efforts and Jane’s appeal, DSS motioned for a termination of parental rights. Accordingly, the court entered a termination of parental rights order. The termination of parental rights order completely severed the relationship between Jane and her children.
On appeal, the appellate court agreed that the cease reunification order was deficient and did not include the required findings of fact showing reunification efforts would be futile. The court stated that, on its own standing, the cease reunification order incorrectly characterized Jane’s reasonable efforts. The appellate court held that Jane’s participation in drug counseling classes and parenting classes was proof of her reasonable efforts to regain custody. Despite finding the order deficient, the appellate court upheld the trial court’s permanency planning order because the missing findings of fact were provided by the subsequent termination of parental rights order. Relying on In re L.M.T., A.M.T., the court read the subsequent termination of parental rights order in conjunction with the permanency planning order. The holding from L.M.T. allowed a subsequent termination of parental rights order to “cure” a prior, deficient order. Therefore, although Jane had a basis for appealing from the cease reunification order, her appeal was moot when the court later made the required findings in the subsequent, separate order. Thus, Jane lost her appeal and her relationship with her children was forever severed.