In re Interest of C.P.

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In re Interest of C.P.

Caselaw No.
235 Neb. 276
Filed on
Friday, May 4, 1990

SUMMARY: The statutory time limit to hold an adjudication hearing is directory, not mandatory. The mother’s failure to protect her child from abuse by the father by allowing her to live with him when she knew he was abusive was sufficient cause for termination of parental rights.

C.P, DOB 9/22/83, is the child of T.P. and M.A. T.P. was physically abusive to both M.A. and T.P., and M.A. observed him hitting C.P. with a variety of objects in the face and head, leaving marks and bruises. The parents separated, and began other relationships, with T.P. taking custody of C.P. On May 19, 1988, T.P. caused a subdural hematoma in the skull of the child of his partner. The child died as a result. When police arrived at T.P.’s residence, they found a filthy home and dirty children, including C.P. Another child at the home was found with fractures, cuts and bruises, which T.P. had been inflicting on him for months. C.P. did not have physical injuries, but informed a police officer that T.P “beat [her] ass.” On June 2, 1988, a petition to terminate the parental rights of M.A. was filed. The parties agreed to continue the trial under after criminal charges were resolved with T.P. After trial on May 3 and 4, 1989, the court terminated M.A.’s parental rights. M.A. appealed.

The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the termination of parental rights. It noted that the 6-month speedy criminal trial provision does not apply to abuse/neglect cases because it is not criminal in nature. The time limit to adjudication under Neb. Rev. Stat. section 43-278, which at the time was 6 months, did apply. However, the Supreme Court noted that the legislature did not direct a remedy such as dismissal for failure to abide by the time limit as it did for the speedy criminal trial provision. Because the adjudication time limit only governs the time or manner of performance and does not relate to the essence of the thing to be done, the Supreme Court concluded that the time limit is directory, not mandatory. Finally, the Supreme Court upheld the termination of parental rights as to M.A., the mother, because she had firsthand knowledge of T.P.’s violent behavior toward the child and still allowed her to be placed in his custody. The Supreme Court noted, to M.A.’s claim that she was afraid of T.P., that “[e]ven if we accept this qualified expression of fear, a mother’s fright does not, by itself, excuse her failure to extricate children from a dangerous environment. 235 Neb. at 285.