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In this Divorce Case, Neither Parent Won their Custody Battles

When two people marry, have children and then file for divorce, what do you think one of the most contested issues can be?CPS knocks-thumb-300x231-93642.jpg

Here's the answer: anything and everything having to do with children. Custody, child support payments, and child visitation can be among the most contested and emotional issues two ex-spouses fight over and file appeals over.

With Both Parents Incarcerated, Who Takes Care of the Children?

Take the case of Martin Olsen and Dixie Jackson.

While Dixie was in jail, her ex-husband cared for the couple's children. During this time, child services were commencing a reunification program with the father as the custodial parent.

Then the father slipped.

Police arrested and incarcerated him after charging him with possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia. So the Utah Division of Child and Family Services stepped in and placed the two children in foster care.

When the case came before a judge, the Division of Child and Family Services recommended the court terminate the reunification process with the children.

Court Sets Goal of Adoption for Children

Furthermore, the juvenile court decided that adoption should be a primary permanency goal for the children and terminated reunification services for the father.

Initially, the mother did not object to the goal of adoption.

Later, however, during the termination hearing the mother contested the termination of her parental rights. The basis of her argument was that Child and Family Services had not provided her with an option for reunification services.

The judge listened but then asserted that the parents were "wholly unfit and unable to care for the children." In addition, the judge noted that there was little likelihood that the parents would be fit to care for the children in any reasonable time frame.

At that hearing, the judge terminated parental rights for the mother and father.

Mother Fights for Custody in Court of Appeals

Unhappy with the court's decision, the mother filed an appeal. The Court of Appeals seemed to side with the mother and instructed the juvenile court to explain whether reunification services with the mother would be detrimental to the children.

While the Guardian ad Item contended that it was too late for the mother to request reunification services, the appellate court disagreed. The court felt that the Child and Family Services Division had not made reasonable efforts to initiate reunification services with the mother before attempting to terminate her parental rights.

The appellate court pointed out that under Utah Code, that Child and Family Services is required to "determine whether, in view of the primary permanency goal, reunification services are appropriate."

The appellate court did not, however, address the mother's argument that the children's foster parents were abusing the children.

This case doesn't end here.

Custody Case goes to the Supreme Court of Utah

The child custody case then went to the Supreme Court of the State of Utah. The justices asserted that juvenile courts are only responsible for establishing reasonable reunification services for an incarcerated parent when reunification is consistent with the primary permanency goal the court sets.

In this case, the juvenile court established a primary permanency goal of adoption. As such, the court ruled, the juvenile court was not required to provide reunification services to the mother.

In the final sentence of its opinion, the Supreme Court in returning the case to the appellate court instructed it to consider the mother's arguments regarding child abuse allegations.

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