GUARDIANSHIP TerminationPosted by Paul Macri - 28/01/10 at 02:01 pm
Guardianship of Jeremiah T., 2009 ME 74, 976 A.2d 955, Alexander, J.
A mother consented to a guardianship for her son. Some time later, after getting married and having a parenting class, she petitioned the Probate Court to terminate the guardianship. The Probate Court denied her petition on the ground that it had considered the thirteen factors to determine the best interests of the child and found that the mother had not proved by a preponderance of evidence that termination of the guardianship was in the child’s best interests. The court also found that the mother’s asserted fundamental liberty interest in maintaining the parent/child relationship was not of constitutional dimension.
The Law Court vacated the decision. The first issue on appeal was whether the amendment shifting the burden of proof in terminating a guardianship to the parent was to be applied retrospectively. The Court held that it was not because it was a substantive change in the law and there was no indication that the Legislature intended it to be applied retrospectively. Thus, the Probate Court should have put the burden of proof on the guardian.
The Probate Court also erred in finding that the liberty interest in raising one’s children was not of constitutional dimension. As the Court noted, “we have consistently recognized, absent a showing of unfitness, parents’ fundamental liberty interest with respect to the care, custody, and control of their children.” Therefore, on remand, the Probate Court was directed to consider the mother’s current physical and emotional ability to parent the child and stated that the guardianship must be terminated unless the guardian proves that the mother is an unfit parent and that continuation of the guardianship is in the child’s best interests.