Heard: September 12, 2018.
filed in the Bristol Division of the Probate and Family Court
Department on September 18, 2014.
cases were heard by Katherine A. Field, J.
Roberta Driscoll for the father.
Bayless for Department of Children and Families.
L. Prince for the children.
Present: Green, C.J., Milkey, & Singh, JJ.
his home in Guatemala, the father sought to obtain custody of
his two daughters who were placed in foster care after the
death of their mother in the United States. The father could
not take immediate custody of the children because he had
been deported earlier. After a one-day trial, at which the father
was necessarily absent due to his immigration status, a
Probate and Family Court judge issued decrees terminating the
father's parental rights. In finding the father to be an
unfit parent, the judge characterized him as having
"abandoned" the children. She also found that he
had "a serious issue with criminal activity" and
"longstanding issues of domestic violence." As none
of these critical findings have adequate support in the
record, we vacate the decrees.
mother and father were both Guatemalan nationals who met in
New Bedford; they began their relationship sometime in 2004
but never married. Posy was born in August, 2006, and Beth
was born in June, 2009. In April, 2009, two months before
Beth's birth, the father was deported, preventing him
from acknowledging paternity on Beth's birth
certificate.After he was deported, the father
maintained telephone contact with the mother (when she had
access to a telephone) and the children.
the father's absence, the Department of Children and
Families (department) became involved with the family. The
first contact was in October, 2010, after the mother left the
children in the care of a neighbor while she went to the
hospital. She suffered from health conditions resulting from
alcohol abuse, and her hospital stay became extended. The
neighbor could not keep the children for this length of time,
which led to a report to the department that the children
were being neglected by their mother. Four additional reports
of the mother's alleged abuse or neglect of the children
followed during the period March, 2011, through February,
2014. Each of the alleged incidents of abuse or neglect filed
against the mother occurred during the father's absence.
No allegations of abuse or neglect of the children were filed
against the father.
July, 2014, the mother died from complications relating to
her alcoholism. Shortly thereafter, a maternal uncle and his
girl friend became temporary guardians of the children for a
few months. Unable to place the children with another
family member or family friend (because of disqualifications
based on the immigration status of potential guardians), the
department sua sponte took custody of the children in
September, 2014, and placed them with a foster
family. At the same time, a department social
worker was assigned to the family.
after receiving her assignment, the social worker contacted
the father in Guatemala. Because the family was receiving
services from the department and the father sought custody of
the children, a service plan issued to the father starting on
November 11, 2014. The father indicated that, in the interim,
a paternal great uncle was interested in taking care of the
children; although the placement was "ruled out" by
the department, the paternal great uncle, a paternal great
aunt, and a paternal cousin (along with the paternal
cousin's three children) began regularly-scheduled visits
with the children. On December 9, 2014, ...