The Washington Court of Appeals today issued a decision in In re Termination of M.J. and M.J., a case in which a lower court permanently severed a mother’s relationship with her children due to her incarceration. Legal Voice filed an amicus brief supporting the mother’s challenge to the lower court’s ruling.
A key issue in the case concerned trial court’s failure to consider requirements of the Children of Incarcerated Parents Act. Legal Voice led successful advocacy efforts to pass this law in 2013, which helps preserve relationships between incarcerated parents and their children. Among other things, the law requires that when the State seeks to terminate the rights of an incarcerated parent, the trial court must consider whether the parent maintains a meaningful role in the child’s life and whether the state made reasonable efforts to help preserve the family.
In this case, the mother made every effort to maintain a meaningful role in her children’s lives while incarcerated. In fact, a social worker testified that she made greater efforts to communicate with her children during incarceration than any other mother she had seen. However, the trial court failed to indicate that it had considered the mother’s meaningful role in her children’s lives before issuing an order that permanently ended their relationship.
Because the trial court failed to demonstrate that it considered the requirements of the Children of Incarcerated Parents Act, the Court of Appeals reversed the termination decision and remanded the case back to the trial court. On remand, the trial court must consider the mother’s meaningful role in the children’s lives, as required by the law.
Legal Voice’s amicus brief was joined by the Washington Defenders Association, the ACLU of Washington, the Incarcerated Mothers Advocacy Project, National Advocates for Pregnant Women, and the Ronald A. Peterson Law Clinic at Seattle University School of Law. Annie Chung served as Legal Voice’s cooperating counsel.