Recent Case: Marijuana use under the level of chemical dependency not grounds for termination of parental rights

Father appeals from the judgment terminating his parental rights. Grounds for termination of parental rights require clear and convincing evidence, so Court of Appeals examines evidence contrary to judgment.  Grounds include abuse or neglect and failure to rectify.  In this case there was not substantial evidence to support the trial court’s finding that Father’s marijuana use constituted a “chemical dependency” as defined in Section 211.447.5(2)(b) or Section 211.447.5(3)(d). Therefore, that condition cannot support termination on grounds of either abuse and neglect or failure to rectify.

Father’s refusal to comply with the service plan’s directive and court orders to become and remain drug free, however, could support termination on the failure to rectify ground, but only if there were also adequate findings supported by substantial evidence that the drug use itself was potentially harmful to the child. No such findings were made in this case, nor was there evidence of inability to care for the child.  Evidence of a failure to meet a condition of the service plan, without findings of fact—especially a finding related to harm—does not support judgment that is based on failure to rectify.  Coupled with the misstatements of the law regarding the required findings under Section 211.447.5(3), the judgment must be reversed.

Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District

ED103681

Filed July 12, 2016