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Friday, September 23, 2011


Child Welfare Handbook

Because termination of parental rights proceedings affect the fundamental liberty interest of natural parents in the care, custody and management of their children, they raise both procedural and substantive due process concerns. The U.S. Supreme Court has identified a fundamental privacy interest in raising one’s children. The Court called the right to conceive and raise one’s children “essential” in Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 399 (1923). In Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 166 (1944), the Court stated that “it is cardinal with us that the custody, care and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include preparation for obligations the state can neither supply nor hinder.”

In Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645 (1972), the Supreme Court invalidated, on both due process and equal protection grounds, an Illinois law under which children of unwed fathers became state wards upon the death of the mother. The Stanley Court declared that all parents were constitutionally entitled to a hearing on their fitness before their children were removed from their custody. In Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745 (1982), the Court held that before a state may sever the rights of parents regarding their natural child, due process requires the state to prove its allegations by at least clear and convincing evidence.

New Mexico case law in the area of termination of parental rights traditionally focused on the grounds for involuntary termination and the sufficiency of the evidence for termination in particular cases. In recent cases, the state Supreme Court has underscored the importance of procedural due process guarantees. Due process of law requires that termination proceedings be conducted with "scrupulous fairness" to the parent. Ruth Anne E., 1999-NMCA-035, ¶19, 126 N.M. 670 (quoted authority and quotation marks omitted). "Procedural due process mandates that a person be accorded an opportunity to be heard at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner." Id. at ¶17 (quoted authorities and quotation marks omitted). State ex rel. CYFD v. Mafin M., 2003-NMSC-015, ¶18,133 N.M. 827.

In State ex rel. CYFD v. Erika M., the Court of Appeals emphasized that termination of parental rights “implicates a significant deprivation of a liberty protected by due process” and that procedural due process “guarantees a parent a fair opportunity to be heard and present a defense.” 1999-NMCA-036, ¶26, 126 N.M. 760. In State ex rel. CYFD in the Matter of Ruth Anne E., the court held that an incarcerated father has the right to meaningful participation in the hearing, including the right to review the evidence presented against him, present evidence on his behalf, and the opportunity to challenge the evidence presented. 1999-NMCA-035, ¶25, 126 N.M. 670. See also State ex rel. CYFD v. Brandy S., 2007-NMCA-135, 168 P.3d 1129.

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