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People in the Interest of A.M.

2021 CO 14. No. 20SC187. Least Restrictive Means—Needs, Interest, and Welfare of Child.

February 16, 2021

In this case, the Supreme Court reviewed a decision of a divided panel of the Court of Appeals holding that a trial court must deny a motion to terminate parental rights that has been proven by clear and convincing evidence if a less drastic alternative to termination exists, even though it is not in the child’s best interests. The Court also reviewed whether a trial court must make express findings regarding less drastic alternatives to termination and whether the panel majority substituted its judgment for the trial court’s factual findings.

The Court held that the Court of Appeals’ adoption of an “adequacy” standard is at odds with the Court’s prior rulings regarding the best interests of the child standard in termination cases—a standard that does not run afoul of parents’ due process rights. The Court further held that (1) consideration of less drastic alternatives is implicit in the statutory criteria for termination; (2) due process does not require such findings be made explicit, though it is the better practice for trial courts to do so; and (3) the Court of Appeals failed to apply the correct legal standard, instead substituting its judgment for that of the trial court. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals’ judgment was reversed.

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