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In re I.K.

Supreme Court of Montana

November 13, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF: I.K., A Youth in Need of Care.

          Submitted on Briefs: October 10, 2018

          APPEAL FROM District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, In and For the County of Missoula, Cause No. DN-16-78 Honorable John W. Larson, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Julie Brown, Montana Legal Justice, PLLC, Missoula, Montana

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Mardell Ployhar, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana Kirsten Pabst, Missoula County Attorney, Jessica Finley, Deputy County Attorney, Missoula, Montana

          OPINION

          Mike McGrath, Chief Justice

         ¶1 R.K. ("Father") appeals a January 23, 2018 Fourth Judicial District Court order terminating his parental rights to I.K. We affirm.

         ¶2 We restate the issue on appeal as follows:

Did the District Court abuse its discretion when it determined that termination was in I.K.'s best interests?

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 Father is the biological parent of eleven-year-old I.K. In 2016, I.K. lived with Mother and two of I.K.'s half-siblings, ages ten and four. The Department of Public Health and Human Services ("the Department") initiated its present involvement with Mother on May 5, 2016, when nobody arrived to pick I.K. and her sibling up from school and Mother failed to respond to the school's phone calls. The children reported Mother was not feeling well, mumbling, and kept passing out in the car and on the couch. Alysen Henderson, a child protection specialist ("CPS"), picked the children up and took them home. When they arrived at the home, Mother was glossy-eyed, unable to communicate, and in possession of drug paraphernalia.

         ¶4 At the time, I.K. was living with Mother but her paternal grandfather was her legal guardian ("Guardian").[1] Mother agreed to work with the Department voluntarily for thirty days, during which the children would be placed with their maternal grandmother. Mother was unable to complete the prescribed tasks during the thirty days and the Department filed a Petition for Emergency Protective Services, Adjudication as a Youth in Need of Care, and Temporary Legal Custody ("TLC"). Father was incarcerated at Montana State Prison ("MSP") during this time.

         ¶5 At a July 7, 2016 hearing, Father appeared telephonically and was represented by counsel. Father stipulated to the adjudication of I.K. as a youth in need of care. At an August 30, 2016 hearing, Father's counsel informed the District Court that Father would like a court-ordered treatment plan, but requested that the plan be compatible with his current incarceration and take into consideration Father's upcoming parole hearing, which could influence where Father would serve the remainder of his sentence. The District Court ordered Father to complete a parenting class while in prison, create a relapse plan, and engage in medically assisted treatment.

         ¶6 On January 6, 2017, the Department sought an extension of TLC because Mother and Guardian were not progressing on their treatment plans. Father did not object and the District Court issued an extension of TLC until July 7, 2017. Father transferred to a prerelease program and on January 23, 2017, the District Court approved Father's treatment plan.

         ¶7 On March 16, 2017, the court-appointed special advocate ("CASA") notified the District Court that Father's prerelease placement had been revoked and he was incarcerated again. The CASA noted that Father "has not been in [I.K.'s] life for any consistent amount of time." On June 1, 2017, a permanency plan hearing was held with the objective of reunifying I.K. ...


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