PARTNER LUCAS CLARK APPEALS TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS
A recent case taken on by the head of our Family Law Department, Lucas A. Clark, IV, Esquire, is a prime example of the type of Children and Youth Services matters handled by Musi, Merkins, Daubenberger & Clark. The matter began at the trial court level in the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County with three different hearings on three separate dates earlier this year. During these proceedings, which involved CYS, two minor children and their mother, the focus was on the children’s mother’s mental health and substance abuse issues, as well as her ability to parent. While reunification between the children and their mother was the original goal pursued by the Court and CYS in these hearings, that goal was eventually abandoned, and the agency pursued termination of the mother’s parental rights. The trial court, after hearing all of the evidence and witness testimony that was provided to the Court, and discussing the needs of the children, ultimately terminated the mother’s parental rights. The trial court felt that the current placement of the children was good situation for them, and it would be in their best interest if they stayed there. Lastly, the Court confirmed that the goal of the proceedings had now been formally changed from reunification with the children’s mother to adoption of the children by a third party.
While Luke did not handle the trial court proceedings, he was retained to file an appeal of the decree terminating the mother’s parental rights on the legal basis that the trial court erred as a matter of law in determining that CYS had proven, by clear and convincing evidence, the requirements set forth by law for the involuntary termination of the birth mother’s parental rights. Specifically, Luke found, after a complete review of the record, that the trial court had ultimately erred as a matter of law in not considering the mother’s ongoing mental health and drug and alcohol treatment, as well as in failing to consider the extremely problematic issue of the mother’s treating physician continuing to provide her with certain medications when she already had a history of drug dependency. Luke also found that the trial court abused its discretion in finding that the termination of parental rights would best serve the needs and welfare of the children when there was clearly a very strong and loving bond between the children and their mother.
When an appeal is filed with the trial court, the matter is then sent to an appellate court for review of the claimed errors of law by the appellant. The appellate courts are empowered to, among other matters, hear appeals from the trial court level and there are two types of appellate courts in Pennsylvania. The Commonwealth Court handles appeals involving governmental agencies, original civil actions brought by and against the Commonwealth or appeals from state agency decisions. The other appellate court, which is the Superior Court, handles appeals in criminal cases, civil cases not involving government agencies, and domestic relations matters. The appeal filed by Luke was filed with the Orphans’ Court Division of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, which is the division of the trial court that hears CYS matters and will be sent by the trial court to the Superior Court where various pleadings including briefs will be filed, it will be scheduled for oral argument, and the Superior Court will render a decision on the claimed errors of law. What happens next depends upon whether the Superior Court finds that the trial court committed any errors of law. If the Superior Court finds that any errors of law were committed by the trial court, then those issues will be remanded to the trial court with instructions. However, if the Superior Court does not find that the trial court committed any errors of law, then Luke will help his client decide whether to cease any further litigation or ask for permission to appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
This matter is an example of how serious cases involving Children and Youth Services are, and should be treated as such, as well as how ready Musi, Merkins, Daubenberger & Clark, LLP’s Family Law Division is to fight for your rights throughout the trial court and/or appellate process. Here at Musi, Merkins, Daubenberger & Clark, LLP, we are committed to protecting the fundamental rights of parents to custody of their children – retain us to protect yours today.
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