A parent who maintains a relationship with an abusive partner jeopardizes a child’s safety, and may risk termination of parental rights.

In Re L.M., 2019 UT App 174, (Filed October 31, 2019).

In a termination of parental rights case, a Mother had a child with an abusive Father. The victim Mother was given a domestic violence assessment and the assessment concluded that Mother was in “extreme danger” from Father “and recommended ten sessions of domestic violence victim treatment.” She took months to complete them and frequently missed classes. The State of Utah opted instead to request the Juvenile Court terminate her rights for failing to complete reunification services which appeared to hinge on her ability to keep herself away from the abusive Father. The Juvenile Court terminated her rights. The Court of Appeals upheld the termination of Mother’s parental rights and reasoned:

¶8 A parent who maintains a relationship with an abusive partner jeopardizes a child’s safety. See In re C.C.W., 2019 UT App 34, ¶ 20, 440 P.3d 749 (“[A] parent’s acts of domestic violence [towards another parent] can have adverse impacts on a child, even if that child is not the direct object of such violence, and even if the child does not directly witness the violence.”). As such, the continuation of an abusive relationship can therefore be a factor supporting termination of parental rights. In re T.M., 2006 UT App 435, ¶ 20, 147 P.3d 529. While extricating oneself from an abusive relationship can pose an extremely difficult hurdle for victims of domestic abuse, if a parent does not successfully leave the relationship, the juvenile court may find that the parent has failed to remedy the circumstances that led to a child’s removal.

¶9 It has been observed that Utah law has not always accounted for the difficulty faced by domestic violence victims in these circumstances, often blaming victims for the abuse they have suffered without acknowledging that adequate resources may not have been offered to a victim to enable that victim to address the problem. In re C.C., 2017 UT App 134, ¶¶ 46–48, 402 P.3d 17 (Christiansen, J., concurring). However, that is not the case here. As discussed above, DCFS provided extensive services to Mother specifically aimed at helping her to break out of the cycle of domestic violence. But, despite these services, Mother was unable to remedy the circumstances that led to Child’s removal.

¶10 Over the course of more than one year of reunification services, Mother deceived DCFS regarding her contact and status with Father, even as she was participating in the domestic violence classes. At times, Mother reported that Father was abusive, and asserted that he kidnapped her at one point during the case. She denied having contact with Father and said she was done with him. On the other hand, Mother told her psychological evaluator that Father had not hurt her and denied ever reporting that he did.

¶11 At other times, Mother acknowledged that the relationship was ongoing and at one point requested couples therapy. She said that she and Father had not actually separated and intended to stay together. Mother even brought Father to visits with Child although Father did not have visitation rights. When Mother was close to having Child for an extended unsupervised visit, she brought Father with her and lied about his identity to her caseworker, knowing that contact with Father was not allowed. Based on Mother’s continued contact with Father and her deception, the juvenile court concluded that Mother had not internalized the lessons from the domestic violence therapy and still presented a risk to Child because she could not protect Child from the abusive situation posed by Father.

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