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North Dakota Prisoner’s Parental Rights Terminated

The North Dakota Supreme Court upheld the termination of a prisoner’s parental rights.

Before the court was the appeal of G. L., who argued a juvenile court erred by declaring him in default, finding that causes of the child’s deprivation were likely to continue, and determining the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) did not apply.

M.R., the child at issue, was placed in social services custody due to concerns the mother was unfit to care for her.  The mother did not contest the petition to terminate parental rights.  The identity of the child was uncertain, but G.L. came forward to claim being the father.

G.L. appeared at the termination through counsel, and the court denied his motion to continue the matter until G.L. could appear.  Once the court learned G.L. was incarcerated, it took a recess to allow counsel to call him with the option to appear telephonically.  In finding no error in finding default, the appellate court noted the juvenile court was entitled to rely on counsel’s statement that “G.L. expressed a preference to appear only in person, and he decided not to call G.L.”

As G.L. was provided notice of the trial date and represented by counsel, he was not denied due process.

The court further found no error in finding the conditions and causes of the child’s deprivation were likely to continue.  It noted G.L. “was often incarcerated or involved in incidents requiring law enforcement  involvement.”  Additionally, “socials services offered parenting time and assistance to G.L. but he did not take advantage of these opportunities.”

Finally, G.L. failed to establish he was the child was a biological member of an Indian tribe.  G.L. twice refused to paternity testing, at no cost to him.  Thus, he failed to meet the burden under the IWCA.

The trial court gave the tribe notice, as the IWCA requires, but it refused to intervene absent biological proof the child was an Indian.

The juvenile court’s order terminating parental rights was affirmed.  See:  Interest of M.R., a Child, 233, 870 N.W.2d 175 (N. Dakota 2015) No 20150175.

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Related legal case

Interest of M.R., a Child