Utah debates right to revoke parents’ guardianship

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    By Meagan Hansen

    The parental rights of a mother and father are in jeopardy after the Utah Supreme Court convened Friday morning Sept. 6.

    The argument in this case is whether the state of Utah has the right to terminate parental rights of a mother and father who do not live in Utah.

    The parents in question, who have not been identified, are serving jail time in Texas and Oklahoma after being separately convicted of sexually abusing children.

    The couple”s 13-year-old son has been in Utah state foster care since 1998, when his older sister, who had legal guardianship, was unable to care for the boy and turned him over to the state.

    The state of Utah has found the boy”s biological parents unfit and determined that their parental rights should be terminated.

    Annina Mitchell, attorney for the state, is aware how sensitive this case is.

    “The issue here is whether Utah has the right to terminate parental rights,” she said.

    Mitchell recognizes the boy”s biological parents do have legal ground to oppose the ruling, but feels strongly that they should not maintain their parental rights.

    “They can”t hide behind the federal constitution,” Mitchell said. “The boy is here and his parents are elsewhere.”

    According to Jim Shirley, attorney for the boy”s mother, Utah has the authority to make decisions about the boy”s foster care but they do not have jurisdiction to terminate parental rights.

    Utah officials say the boy”s parents were notified of the termination proceedings but chose not to participate.

    “Incarcerated parents communicate all of the time,” said Martha Pierce, an attorney defending the boy”s welfare.

    The boy”s parents could have communicated their concerns by telephone or by video with Utah State attorneys but no contact was made, she said.

    Pierce continued by saying that terminating the parental rights in this case is justified.

    “Most parents in jail make arrangements for their children,” Pierce said.

    Upon entering jail, the boy”s parents had made no long terms plans for their son.

    “I make better arrangements for my children when I go to the movies. These parents were going to be gone much longer than two hours,” Pierce said. “It seems to me that they didn”t care.”

    As for the boy, he does not understand why his foster family cannot adopt him.

    “They love him and he loves them,” Pierce said. “They want to be a family and are frustrated that this is still going on.”

    The Utah Supreme Court has not ruled in this case, but a decision should be reached by the end of this year.

    Mitchell said that Justice Richard C. Howe will be retiring in December. All cases he is working on, including this case, will be ruled on before he leaves the court.

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