In re Ava W.

Decision Date10 August 2020
Docket NumberSC 20465
Citation336 Conn. 545,248 A.3d 675
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
Parties IN RE AVA W.

Albert J. Oneto IV, assigned counsel, with whom, on the brief, was Stacy L. Schleif, assigned counsel, for the appellant (respondent mother).

Evan O'Roark, assistant attorney general, with whom were Benjamin Zivyon, assistant attorney general, and, on the brief, William Tong, attorney general, for the appellee (petitioner).

Robinson, C. J., and Palmer, McDonald, D'Auria, Mullins, Kahn and Ecker, Js.**

D'AURIA, J.

In this certified appeal, we must decide whether a trial court has the legal authority to order posttermination visitation between a parent and the parent's minor child at the time the court considers termination of parental rights pursuant to General Statutes § 17a-112 (j). The respondent, Kiarah P., challenges the trial court's determination that it lacked authority to order visitation between her and her minor daughter, Ava W., upon ordering termination of the respondent's parental rights.1 The respondent claims that the trial court should have considered her request for posttermination visitation under its broad authority to enter "any order," pursuant to General Statutes § 46b-121 (b) (1), so long as the order serves the best interest of the child.

In response, the petitioner, the Commissioner of Children and Families, makes three arguments: (1) the respondent lacks standing to challenge the trial court's order regarding visitation because the court terminated her parental rights; (2) the trial court correctly determined that, as a matter of law, it lacked the authority to issue an order for posttermination contact; and (3) even if the trial court had the authority to order posttermination visitation, it correctly determined that posttermination visitation would not be in the child's best interest.

We agree with the respondent that the jurisdictional hurdles of aggrievement and mootness have been satisfied and do not defeat this court's subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate this appeal. We also agree with the respondent that a trial court has authority to issue a posttermination visitation order that is requested within the context of a termination proceeding, so long as it is necessary or appropriate to secure the welfare, protection, proper care and suitable support of the child. That authority derives from the court's broad common-law authority over juvenile matters and the legislature's enactment of § 46b-121 (b) (1) codifying that authority. The trial court in the present case incorrectly determined that it lacked authority to consider a posttermination visitation order on the basis of the respondent's failure to satisfy the statutory requirements of § 17a-112 (b) through (h). Section 17a-112 (b) governs "cooperative postadoption agreement[s]" under which parents voluntarily relinquish their parental rights and intended adoptive parents willingly enter into a postadoption contact agreement. The present case does not fall within that category of circumstances, and the respondent's failure to satisfy those requirements did not deprive the trial court of authority to consider posttermination visitation pursuant to its broad authority under § 46b-121 (b) (1). Therefore, the trial court incorrectly determined that it lacked authority to evaluate whether posttermination visitation would be necessary or appropriate to secure the welfare, protection, proper care and suitable support of the child. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court's order denying the request of the minor child and the respondent mother for posttermination visitation with the respondent and remand the case with direction to consider the request consistent with the standard we now establish. Specifically, trial courts have authority pursuant to § 46b-121 (b) (1) to consider motions for posttermination visitation within the context of a termination proceeding and can order such visitation if necessary or appropriate to secure the welfare, protection, proper care and suitable support of the child.

I

The following facts, as found by the trial court or contained in the record, and procedural history are undisputed. The respondent gave birth to the child in the fall of 2017, and, while in the hospital, the child tested positive for opiates and required treatment for withdrawal. To ensure the child's safety, the petitioner moved for an order of temporary custody and petitioned the trial court for a finding of neglect. The trial court issued an ex parte order removing the child from her parents’ custody and vesting temporary custody of her with the petitioner. The petitioner placed the child with the paternal aunt, and the court issued specific steps for the respondent to take to regain custody of the child. The trial court then held a hearing on the order of temporary custody at which both parents agreed to sustain the order but entered pro forma denials as to the neglect allegations. The trial court again issued specific steps for the respondent to take to regain custody of the child, including drug treatment, individual therapy, parenting classes, and supportive housing for transience.

In early January, 2018, the trial court adjudicated the child neglected, committing her to the petitioner. The trial court also issued final specific steps for the respondent to take to regain custody of the child. The respondent failed to comply fully with the final specific steps and was in and out of jail in connection with various offenses. While incarcerated, she maintained visitation with the child but, for the majority of the time she was not incarcerated, she failed to maintain visitation. Toward the end of 2018, she was arrested and incarcerated again. In November, 2018, the petitioner filed a petition to terminate the respondent's parental rights, alleging, inter alia, that, pursuant to § 17a-112 (j) (3) (B), she had failed to achieve a sufficient degree of personal rehabilitation as would encourage the belief that, within a reasonable time, considering the child's age and needs, she could resume a responsible position in the child's life, and that, pursuant to § 17a-112 (j) (3) (A), the respondent had abandoned the child in that she had failed to maintain a reasonable degree of interest in our concern or responsibility for the child's welfare.

The record indicates that, at some point prior to the commencement of the termination hearing, the respondent had indicated a willingness to consent to the termination of her parental rights. At the outset of the hearing, the trial court therefore canvassed the respondent to confirm that she was in fact voluntarily and willingly consenting to the termination of her parental rights. The court asked whether she had had enough time to speak with her attorney about her decision to consent, and she replied that she did not think so, causing the trial court to reject her consent and to proceed to trial. During the trial, a social worker with the Department of Children and Families (department), Darryen B. Gripes, who had been assigned to the child, testified that she had observed a strengthening bond between the respondent and the child during visits when the respondent was incarcerated. Gripes also testified that the frequency of the visits had helped establish that bond and that the respondent's presence had been a positive relationship in the child's life. In light of that bond, counsel for the child asked the trial court to consider an order of posttermination or postadoption visitation between the child and the respondent. The trial court directed the parties to submit briefs on the issue.2

Subsequently, the trial court issued a memorandum of decision regarding the termination of the respondent's parental rights and then, in a separate memorandum of decision, denied the request for posttermination visitation. In its decision terminating the respondent's parental rights, the court found, by clear and convincing evidence, that the petitioner had established the statutory grounds for termination and, accordingly, granted the petition for termination of the respondent's parental rights.3 In its second decision, regarding the respondent's request for posttermination visitation with the child,4 the court determined that it would not order posttermination visitation because (1) the parties did not enter into a cooperative postadoption agreement, (2) the court had "not determined whether postadoption contact is in the best interest of the child," and (3) there was "no presumption that the child has contact with a biological parent whose rights were terminated, absent a cooperative postadoption agreement."

Following the judgment, the respondent appealed to the Appellate Court but did not contest the trial court's termination of her parental rights. Rather, she challenged only the trial court's decision declining to order posttermination visitation. The petitioner moved to dismiss the respondent's appeal as to the posttermination visitation issue on the ground that the respondent lacked standing because she was not aggrieved by the trial court's order. The Appellate Court denied the petitioner's motion without prejudice, permitting the petitioner to raise the jurisdictional issue in her brief on the merits. After the parties filed their briefs and the appeal was submitted for decision, the Appellate Court notified this court of its "opinion that the appeal is appropriate for Supreme Court review" pursuant to Practice Book § 65-2.5 We agreed and transferred the appeal to this court pursuant to that rule of practice and General Statutes § 51-199 (c).6

II

On appeal to this court, the petitioner reasserts her argument for dismissal of the respondent's appeal on the ground that the respondent lacks standing to challenge the trial court's order regarding posttermination visitation. According to the petitioner, the respondent lacks standing for three reasons. First, she was not...

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  • In re Annessa J.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • August 3, 2021
    ...during the proceedings to terminate parental rights, a respondent files a motion requesting such visitation. In re Ava W. , 336 Conn. 545, 577, 590 n.18, 248 A.3d 675 (2020). "[T]he standard for evaluating posttermination visitation [derives] from the authority granted to [the trial court] ......
  • In re Annessa J.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • June 20, 2022
    ...the trial court had "failed to consider the appropriate standard under [General Statutes] § 46b-121 (b) (1) and In re Ava W. [336 Conn. 545, 589, 248 A.3d 675 (2020) ], namely, whether posttermination visitation is ‘necessary or appropriate to secure the welfare, protection, proper care a......
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    ...Familes as amicus curiae.Robinson, C. J., and McDonald, D'Auria, Mullins, Kahn, Ecker and Keller, Js. KELLER, J. In In re Ava W. , 336 Conn. 545, 248 A.3d 675 (2020), this court held that, if a parent requests posttermination visitation in the course of the proceeding adjudicating the petit......
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