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In re Samatha B. (Anonymous)

Supreme Court of New York, Second Department

March 28, 2018

In the Matter of Samatha B. (Anonymous), appellant. Children's Aid Society, petitioner-respondent; Cynthia J. (Anonymous), respondent-respondent, et al., respondents. Docket No. B-20971-11

          Argued - March 5, 2018

         D54909 L/hu

          Mark Brandys, New York, NY, for appellant.

          Rosin Steinhagen Mendel, New York, NY (Douglas H. Reiniger of counsel), for petitioner-respondent.

          Brooklyn Defender Services, Brooklyn, NY (Jessica Marcus of counsel), for respondent-respondent.

          JOHN M. LEVENTHAL, J.P. JEFFREY A. COHEN SYLVIA O. HINDS-RADIX FRANCESCA E. CONNOLLY, JJ.

          DECISION & ORDER

         Appeal from an order of the Family Court, Kings County (Ann E. O'Shea, J.), dated January 11, 2017. The order, insofar as appealed from, after a fact-finding hearing, determined that the putative father's consent to the adoption of the subject child was required pursuant to Domestic Relations Law § 111 and dismissed those branches of the petition which were to terminate the parental rights of the mother and the putative father as to the child on the ground of permanent neglect.

         ORDERED that the order is affirmed insofar as appealed from, without costs or disbursements.

         At the time of the subject child's birth in September 2008, the mother was living with the putative father. Shortly after her birth, the child was placed in foster care due to the mother's drug use. In August 2011, the petitioner commenced this proceeding, among other things, to terminate the parental rights of the mother and the putative father on the ground of permanent neglect. The petitioner alleged that the putative father's consent to the adoption of the child was not required pursuant to Domestic Relations Law § 111 or, in the alternative, that he permanently neglected the child.

         After a fact-finding hearing, the Family Court, inter alia, dismissed those branches of the petition which were to terminate the parental rights of the mother and the putative father. The court determined, among other things, that the putative father's consent to the adoption of the child was required pursuant to Domestic Relations Law §111, and that the petitioner failed to establish, by clear and convincing evidence, that it made diligent efforts to strengthen the putative father's and the mother's parental relationship with the child, or that the mother and the putative father failed to maintain contact with the child or plan for her future. The child appeals.

         There is no basis to disturb the Family Court's determination that the putative father's consent was required for an adoption of the child (see Domestic Relations Law § 111; cf. Matter of Kevin A., Jr., 61 A.D.3d 859, 860).

         The threshold inquiry in a permanent neglect proceeding is whether the petitioner established by clear and convincing evidence that it made diligent efforts to encourage and strengthen the parental relationship (see Matter of Hailey ZZ. [Ricky ZZ.], 19 N.Y.3d 422, 429; Matter of Michael B., 80 N.Y.2d 299, 309; Matter of Sheila G., 61 N.Y.2d 368, 380-381; Matter of Brandon L.B. [Lori S.P.], 150 A.D.3d 984, 984). The term '"diligent efforts"' is defined as ''reasonable attempts ... to assist, develop and encourage a meaningful relationship between the parent and child" by, inter alia, creating a service plan that offers appropriate services to the parents to resolve the problems preventing the return of the child into their care and making suitable arrangements for visitation (Social Services Law § 384-b[7][f]; see Matter of Star Leslie W., 63 N.Y.2d 136, 142; Matter of Sheila G., 61 N.Y.2d at 384; Matter of Elijah W.L. [Omisa S.C.], 146 A.D.3d 782, 784). Once the petitioner establishes that it made diligent efforts to strengthen the parental relationship, it bears the burden of proving that, during the relevant period of time, the parent failed to maintain contact with the child or plan for the child's future, although physically and financially able to do so (see Matter of Hailey ZZ. [Ricky ZZ.], 19 N.Y.3d at 429; Matter of Endoran E.H. [Elliot RH.], 132 A.D.3d 762, 763).

         Contrary to the Family Court's determination, the petitioner demonstrated, by clear and convincing evidence, that it made diligent efforts to encourage and strengthen the parental relationship and to reunite the family. These efforts included devising service plans for the mother and the putative father, facilitating their visitation with the child, encouraging their attendance at the child's various therapy sessions, providing the mother with referrals for drug treatment and mental health services, monitoring her progress, and taking appropriate action when the drug treatment program she had been attending failed to cooperate with the petitioner in its efforts to assist the mother (see Matter of Star Leslie W., 63 N.Y.2d at 142-143; Matter of Sarah J.A. [Ramadan G.O.-A.], 156 A.D.3d 691, 692; Matter of Elasia A.D.B. [Crystal D.G.], 118 A.D.3d 778, 779; Matter of Tarmara F.J. [JaineenJ.], 108 A.D.3d 543, 543; Matter of Austin C. [Alicia Y.], 77 A.D.3d 938, 938).

         Nevertheless, the Family Court properly dismissed those branches of the petition which were to terminate the parental rights of the mother and the putative father on the ground of permanent neglect. The record supports the Family Court's determination that the petitioner did not establish, by clear and convincing evidence, that the mother and the putative father failed substantially and consistently to maintain contact with the child or to plan for the child's future during the relevant period of time (see Matter of Edoran ...


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