In the Interests of K.H., K.R.T., and K.J.T., Minor Children.
from Shawnee District Court; Mary E. Christopher, judge.
I. Hockenbarger, of Topeka, for appellant.
L. Hall, deputy district attorney and Michael F. Kagay,
district attorney, for appellee.
Arnold-Burger, C.J., Pierron and Malone, JJ.
Interpretation of a statute is a question of law over which
appellate courts have unlimited review.
2. At a
hearing on a motion for termination of parental rights, a
parent who fails to appear in person but who appears through
counsel is not in default. In this situation, the district
court errs by granting a default judgment terminating
parental rights without receiving any evidence to support the
Under the Revised Kansas Code for Care of Children, when a
parent fails to appear at the hearing on a motion to
terminate parental rights, the State may proceed by
proffering the evidence supporting the motion if there is no
objection by counsel for the parent. But if the parent has
instructed his or her counsel to object to a proffer, then
the State should proceed by presenting evidence to the court
in support of termination.
(Mother) appeals the termination of her parental rights to
her children, K.R.T., K.J.T., and K.H. The district court
granted a default judgment against Mother because she failed
to appear in person at the hearing on the State's motion
to terminate parental rights, even though Mother appeared at
the hearing through her court appointed counsel. On appeal,
Mother claims the district court violated her due process
rights by terminating her parental rights through a default
judgment. She also claims there was insufficient evidence to
support the district court's findings that she was an
unfit parent and that termination of her parental rights was
in the children's best interests. For the reasons stated
in this opinion, we conclude the district court erroneously
terminated Mother's parental rights based on a default
judgment without hearing any evidence.
and Procedural Background
August 20, 2015, the State filed a petition alleging K.R.T.,
K.J.T., and K.H. were children in need of care (CINC). The
petition named N.C. as the father of K.R.T. and K.J.T., and
it named R.H. as the father of K.H. The fathers are not
involved in this appeal. As to Mother, the petition alleged
that she physically abused the children.
district court held a temporary custody hearing the next day.
Mother and her court appointed attorney appeared at the
hearing. At the end of the hearing, the district court placed
the children into the temporary custody of the Department for
Children and Families (DCF).
district court held an adjudication hearing on November 30,
2015. Mother appeared in person and through her attorney. At
the hearing, Mother did not contest the allegations in the
petition and the district court adjudicated the children as
CINC. The district court held a disposition hearing on
January 25, 2016, and ordered that the children remain in DCF
record reflects no other court hearings until late in 2016.
In December 2016, the district court held a permanency
hearing with the goal of reintegration or adoption. The
district court held a review hearing in March 2017, and the
court ordered social services to provide therapist
recommendations to Mother. The district court held the next
hearing in May 2017, and it ordered reports on progress in
therapy. The district court held another review hearing in
July 2017, and it ordered the social service agency to
distribute reports relating to autism, ...