Court Vacates Orders Terminating Parental Rights Because Of Inordinate Delay Of Proceedings

How long should a proceeding to terminate parental rights (Social Services Law § 384-b) take? Last week the Second Department was unsatisfied with a proceeding that took nearly six years (Matter of Dustin H. v Raymond H., 2007 NY Slip Op 04493). In that case it took over a year to begin a fact-finding hearing after the filing of the petition, it took four years to complete the fact-finding hearing, and it took another nine months for a disposition. After this length of this time, the Family Court issued orders of permanent neglect and placed the children at issue up for adoption. The Second Department noted that a timely procedure serves the best interests of the child as obviously the sooner a child can receive the benefits of a nurturing relationship the better. And in this case the Court found that the inordinate amount of time it took to complete the procedure contravened “fundamental fairness.” What remedy did the Second Department impose? It reversed the fact-finding and dispositional orders, and remitted the matter to the Family Court for new fact-finding and dispositional hearings before a different judge, which the Court directed, “shall be reached with all convenient speed” [Note: there was also an evidentiary issue which swayed the Court]. Isn’t it ironic that the Court’s remedy would only result in more delay. Was the Court without any other authority to finally dispose of the matter? It is unclear from the Court’s decision why it simply it did not use its factual review power to either agree with or disagree with the finding of neglect. This at a minimum would have obviated the need for an additional fact-finding hearing.

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