ADOPTION OF RIAHLEIGH M. ADOPTION OF MYANNAH D.
Argued: October 11, 2018
Michael G. Keefe, Esq. (orally), Portland, for appellant
father of Riahleigh M.
F. Zink, Esq. (orally), Freeport, for appellant father of
Timothy E. Robbins, Esq. (orally), South Portland, for
appellee maternal grandmother
Christopher Berry, Esq., Bridgton, for Amicus Curiae, The
American Academy of Adoption & Assisted Reproduction
SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and
In the two appeals that we address in this consolidated
opinion, we consider whether a parent whose parental rights
are at stake in a judicial termination proceeding that does
not involve the Department of Health and Human Services is
constitutionally entitled to the services that are ordinarily
provided in a title 22 child protection action after a court
has found abuse or neglect or has placed a child in foster
care under the supervision of the Department. In the matters
before us, the fathers of half-sisters Riahleigh M. and
MyAnnah D. appeal from separate judgments of the Cumberland
County Probate Court [Mazziotti, J.) granting the
petitions of the children's maternal grandmother to
terminate the fathers' parental rights as part of the
proceeding through which the grandmother seeks to adopt the
During the separate proceedings in these actions, the court
denied each father's motion for an order requiring the
provision of rehabilitation and reunification
services. Before us, the fathers argue that they
were deprived of due process and equal protection of the law
when the court denied these motions. We conclude that the
court did not violate the rights secured to the fathers by
the Maine and federal constitutions, and that the court did
not err or abuse its discretion by entering the judgments
terminating the fathers' parental rights. Accordingly, we
affirm the judgments.
The following facts are drawn from the procedural record and
from the court's findings, which are supported by the
evidence. See In re Evelyn A, 2017 ME 182, ¶ 4,
169 A.3d 914.
Riahleigh was born in 2006, and MyAnnah was born in 2012. The
children have the same mother but different fathers. The
children now reside in the safe and healthy home of their
maternal grandmother. A District Court parental rights and
responsibilities order regarding Riahleigh and a Probate
Court guardianship order regarding MyAnnah placed the
children in the grandmother's care. In early 2015, the
grandmother filed petitions in the Probate Court to adopt the
two children and petitions to terminate each parent's
parental rights. The court appointed counsel for the mother
and each father. See 18-AM.R.S. §9-106(a)
(2017). It also appointed a guardian ad litem in
each matter. See 18-A M.R.S. § 9-204(c) (2017).
The mother and both fathers unsuccessfully moved for the
court to order the provision of rehabilitation and
reunification services consistent with the services that
would have been available if a court had found abuse or
neglect or the children had been placed in foster care in a
child protection matter. Cf. 22 M.R.S. §§
4036-B, 4041 (2017). Neither of the fathers specified in his
motion what specific services he wanted to receive, apart
from a generic request by the father of MyAnnah that services
include "visitation, parenting counseling, and mental
health counseling." Neither motion requested payment for
the services from any specific party or from the State, nor
did either father argue that any specific services were
designed to remedy particular parenting deficits.
The court scheduled separate trials on the two termination
petitions, but before either trial was held, the mother
consented to the termination of her parental rights to both
children to enable the grandmother to adopt the children. The
trials were therefore limited to the question of whether the
fathers' parental rights should be terminated.
After each trial, the court entered a judgment terminating that
father's parental rights upon finding that the father was
unwilling or unable to protect his child from jeopardy and
that these circumstances were unlikely to change within a
time reasonably calculated to meet her needs, that he was
unwilling or unable to take responsibility for his child
within a time reasonably calculated to meet her needs, and
that termination of the father's parental rights was in
his child's best interest. See 22 M.R.S. §
4055(1)(A)(2), (B)(2)(a), (b)(i)-(ii) (2017). Each father
timely appealed, and we invited amicus briefs on the
constitutional issues raised by the fathers in their briefs.
We now consider both appeals.
In this opinion, we first summarize the statutory basis for
the Department's obligation to provide rehabilitation and
reunification services to parents in title 22 child
protection matters. We then address the fathers'
arguments that the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses
of the federal and state constitutions require that parents
be provided with similar services by court order in private
adoption matters in which petitions to terminate parental
rights have been filed. Finally, we review the court's
findings and discretionary determinations in support of the
Statutory Obligation to Provide Rehabilitation and
The Department's obligation to provide rehabilitation and
reunification services is triggered in a title 22 child
protection matter when a parent is found to have subjected a
child to abuse or neglect or a child has been removed from
the home for sixty days. 22 M.R.S. §4041(1-A). In those
circumstances, the Department is ordinarily required to
formulate a rehabilitation and reunification plan that
includes the following:
(iv) Services that must be provided or made available to
assist the parent in rehabilitating and reunifying with the
child, as appropriate to the child and family, including, but
not limited to, reasonable transportation for the parent for
visits and services, child care, housing assistance,
assistance with transportation to and from required services
and other services that support reunification; [and]
(v) A schedule of and conditions for visits between the child
and the parent designed to provide the parent and child time
together in settings that provide as positive a parent-child
interaction as can practicably be achieved while ensuring the
emotional and physical well-being of the child when visits
are not detrimental to the child's best interests.
22 M.R.S. § 4041(1-A)(A)(1)(c).
It is the parent, however, who ultimately bears the
responsibility to rehabilitate and reunify with the child.
See 22 M.R.S. § 4041(1-A)(B). The parental
responsibilities identified in that statute require the
parent to "[r]ectify and resolve problems that prevent
the return of the child to the home," to "[s]eek
and utilize appropriate services to assist in rehabilitating
and reunifying with the child," and to "[p]ay
reasonable sums toward the support of the child within the
limits of the parent's ability to pay." Id.
§ 4041(1-A)(B)(1), (5), (6).
Thus, the parent has the obligation to remedy the parenting
deficits that resulted in the removal or the finding of abuse
or neglect, and the Department bears a responsibility to
"make reasonable efforts to rehabilitate and reunify the
family," including by making services available to the
family. 22 M.R.S. § 4036-B(4); see also id.
§ 4041(l-A)(A), (B).
In the absence of a judicial finding of abuse or neglect or
removal from the home, however, the Department does not bear
the same statutory responsibilities. When a dispute exists
between or among private parties in a family matter,
including in an adoption proceeding, neither the Department
nor any of the other parties has a statutorily created
obligation to provide or participate in rehabilitation and
reunification services for a parent whose rights are at
stake. Adoption of Isabelle T., 2017 ME 220, ¶
12, 175 A.3d 639. As we have observed, the Adoption Act, 18-A
M.R.S. §§9-101 to 9-404 (2017), "does not
require-or even authorize-the court to consider
rehabilitation or reunification efforts prior to terminating
parental rights" in private adoption proceedings.
Adoption of Isabelle T., 2017 ME 220, ¶ 12, 175
A.3d 639; see also Adoption of I.E., 2012 ME 127,
¶ 13, 56 A.3d 1234 ("During an adoption proceeding,
the Probate Court is not required to order attempts at
reunification before terminating parental
rights."). "There is no state assertion of
parental unfitness in private termination/adoption
proceedings, and the Adoption Act provides fewer protections
for parents than those provided in Title 22 child protection
proceedings." Adoption of Isabelle T., 2017 ME
220, ¶ 11, 175 A.3d 639; see 22 M.R.S.
§§ 4001-4068 (2017).
Thus, as a statutory matter, in private family
matter proceedings, a parent may have his or her parental
rights restricted or terminated even in the absence of
services that would be aimed at rehabilitating that parent.
See Adoption oflsabelle T., 2017 ME 220, ¶ 14,
175 A.3d 639. Although such a "rehabilitation and
reunification plan is the centerpiece of child protective
proceedings following a jeopardy determination," a plan
is not implicated when there has been no removal or finding
of abuse or neglect. In re Thomas D., 2004 ME 104,
¶ 26, 854 A.2d 195; see 18-A M.R.S. §
9-204(b); see also 22 M.R.S. §§ 4003(3),
4035, 4036-B(4), 4041(1-A).
The question raised here is whether, to safeguard a
parent's fundamental rights, the Maine and federal
constitutions require courts to order services for
improving parental capacity when a termination petition has
been filed in a private ...