Doe, Matter of, No. 4975

Docket NºNo. 4975
Citation648 P.2d 1180, 1981 NMCA 134, 98 N.M. 367
Case DateNovember 17, 1981
CourtCourt of Appeals of New Mexico

Page 1180

648 P.2d 1180
98 N.M. 367
In the Matter of Jane DOE, a child.
STATE of New Mexico, ex rel., DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES,
Petitioner-Appellee,
v.
Elodia MINJARES, Respondent-Appellant.
No. 4975.
Court of Appeals of New Mexico.
Nov. 17, 1981.

Jeff Bingaman, Atty. Gen., Bruce M. Burwell, Asst. Atty. Gen., Santa Fe, for petitioner-appellee.

Larry R. Hill, Alamogordo, for respondent-appellant.

OPINION

SUTIN, Judge.

The trial court entered judgment that the parental rights of Elodia Minjares be forever terminated with a minor child and that its legal custody be placed with the Department of Human Services (DHS) for purposes of adoption of the child, with physical custody to remain in foster parents pending adoption. Elodia appeals. We reverse.

The trial court found:

On May 9, 1975, a 10 month old child, having been born June 17, 1974, was removed from Elodia's home because this child and another had been left alone. On May 13, 1975, the child was placed in the [98 N.M. 368]

Page 1181

home of a family and has remained with this family to the present time.

On July 9, 1975, DHS was granted custody of the child for foster home placement for an indefinite period not to exceed one year. Subsequent extensions were made and on July 11, 1979, the State filed this action to terminate Elodia's parental rights.

Elodia kept an unclean, unkempt home although there has been some improvement. Three of her sons had been adjudicated delinquent children. On occasion she would leave some of her small children alone at home without supervision.

The child had a chronic hip dislocation which required care at Carrie Tingley Childrens Hospital and was taken there for all required visits by the family who were foster parents. The child is well adjusted and functions as a member of this family, does not know her mother's name nor the names of her brothers and sisters except one, but she does know the names and ages of the children of the foster parents, the school they attend and in what year of school each is. The child looks upon Elodia as a stranger and the foster parents as her parents.

Elodia attended scheduled visits with the child sporadically with no interaction between mother and daughter. Elodia would not provide a proper environment for the child nor proper care, nurturing, discipline and supervision were the child returned to her.

The trial court concluded that the parent/child relationship between Elodia and her daughter had disintegrated to a point where there was no relationship between them; that the conditions of neglect which existed at the time the child was removed from Elodia's home are unlikely to change in the foreseeable future; that the child has lived in foster placement for five of her six years of life and that a real parent/child relationship has developed between the foster parents and the child.

Section 40-7-4, N.M.S.A.1978, entitled "Termination of parental rights" reads in pertinent part.

A. The rights of a parent * * * with reference to a child may be terminated by the court * * *. In proceedings to terminate parental rights, the court shall give primary consideration to the physical, mental and emotional welfare and needs of the child.

B. The court shall terminate parental rights with respect to a minor child when:

(3) the child is a neglected * * * child as defined in Section 32-1-3 NMSA 1978 and the court finds that the conditions and causes of the neglect * * * are unlikely to change in the foreseeable future despite reasonable efforts by the department * * * to assist the parent in adjusting the conditions which render the parent unable to properly care for the child ; or

(4) the child has been placed in foster care by a court order * * * and the following conditions exist:

(a) the child has lived in the foster home for an extended period of time;

(b) the parent/child relationship has disintegrated ;

(c) a psychological parent/child relationship has developed between the foster family and the child;

(d) if the court deems the child of sufficient capacity to express a preference, the child prefers no longer to live with the natural parent; and

(e) the foster family desires to adopt the child.

J. The grounds for any attempted termination must be proved by clear and convincing evidence.

L. A judgment of the court terminating parental rights divests the parent and the child of all legal rights, privileges, duties and obligations * * * with respect to each other, and dispenses with both the consent of, and the requirement of notice to, that parent whose relationship is terminated by the judgment for a subsequent adoption proceeding.

[98 N.M. 369]

Page 1182

A "neglected child" as defined in § 32-1-3(L) is a child

(2) who is without proper parental care and control or subsistence, education, medical or other care or control necessary for his well-being because of the faults or habits of his parent * * * or his neglect or refusal, when able to do so, to provide them. (All emphasis added.)

In summarizing the law applicable to termination of parental rights, the public policy of this State is that primary consideration must be given to the welfare and needs of the child. Termination of parental rights is proper if (1) the child is a neglected child or (2) the child has been placed in foster care by court order subject to the existence of five conditions. If a natural mother is to have her rights foreclosed, strict compliance with the statute must be had and full effect given to its meaning. We hold that the requirements of these statutes have not been met.

A. Elodia's child was not a neglected child.

If we accept the court's conclusions of law as additional findings of fact, it found:

On May 9, 1975, the child, then ten months old, was removed from the home of Elodia because the child and a three year old sister had been left alone by Elodia. The conditions of neglect which existed at the time the child was removed from Elodia's home are unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.

To conclude that parental rights should be terminated on the grounds of neglect as stated in § 40-7-4(B)(3) and § 32-1-3, the trial court must make the following findings:

(1) That "the child is a neglected child." The statute reads in the present not in the past tense. It does not mean that a child which may have been a neglected child five years before the hearing remained a neglected child five years later, especially so when the child was removed from her mother's home at the age of ten months and placed in a different environment thereafter. In other words, a child, who has lived with foster parents for five years prior to a hearing, cannot be classified as a neglected child. Whether the child would have been neglected under parental care if returned to Elodia is an unknown fact.

This is not a proceeding in which a determination is made whether DHS is entitled to the custody of the child. We are at that point where DHS seeks the total permanent dissolution of the relationship of natural mother and child.

On October 26, 1977, DHS filed an Application for Termination of Parental Rights. On May 8, 1978, a different judge entered an Order that denied the State's Petition to Terminate the Parental Rights of Elodia; that such parental rights should continue in full force...

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1 practice notes
  • State v. Brothers, No. 22,377.
    • United States
    • New Mexico Court of Appeals of New Mexico
    • September 25, 2002
    ...statutory language requiring the court to find that a child is currently neglected in order to terminate parental rights. See In re Doe, 98 N.M. 367, 370, 648 P.2d 1180, 1183 (Ct.App.1981), rev'd on other grounds, 98 N.M. 198, 647 P.2d 400 (1982) (interpreting NMSA 1978, § 40-7-4 (1977, rep......
1 cases
  • State v. Brothers, No. 22,377.
    • United States
    • New Mexico Court of Appeals of New Mexico
    • September 25, 2002
    ...statutory language requiring the court to find that a child is currently neglected in order to terminate parental rights. See In re Doe, 98 N.M. 367, 370, 648 P.2d 1180, 1183 (Ct.App.1981), rev'd on other grounds, 98 N.M. 198, 647 P.2d 400 (1982) (interpreting NMSA 1978, § 40-7-4 (1977, rep......

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