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People in the Interest of J.G.

2021 COA 47. No. 20CA0800.  Juvenile Court—Dependency and Neglect—Troxel Presumption.

April 8, 2021

The juvenile court adjudicated the children dependent and neglected, removed them from mother’s care, and ultimately transferred their custody to the paternal grandmother, M.B. Mother later moved to have the children returned to her care. After a six-day hearing, the court denied the motion. M.B. moved for an allocation of parental responsibilities (APR) for the children. After a hearing, the juvenile court allocated sole decision-making authority and primary parenting time to M.B. and allowed mother weekly parenting time with the children.

Mother argued on appeal that the juvenile court erred in concluding that M.B. had standing to request an APR when the children had been temporarily placed in her care over mother’s objection. Mother’s argument was based solely on the Uniform Dissolution of Marriage Act, which does not govern APRs in dependency and neglect cases. But the Children’s Code, which does apply, expressly authorizes a grandparent to intervene as a matter of right following a child’s adjudication as dependent and neglected. Further, M.B.’s motion was duplicative of the guardian ad litem’s (GAL) motion for an APR to M.B., and mother did not contend that the GAL lacked standing to seek an APR to the paternal grandmother. Accordingly, the juvenile court did not err.

Mother also argued that the juvenile court erred by failing to apply the presumption under Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 68 (2000), that parents may regain the presumption that they will act in the child’s best interests following a child’s adjudication as dependent and neglected before allocating parenting time to the paternal grandmother. Here, in ruling on the APR request, the juvenile court reviewed and adopted an earlier order that expressly determined that mother had complied with her treatment plan and was a fit parent. Therefore, mother was entitled to the Troxel presumption, but the record does not show that the court applied Troxel’s protections to her.

Mother also contended that granting sole parenting time and decision-making authority to a nonparent over a fit parent’s objection infringes on the parent’s constitutional rights. Mother did not raise this argument in juvenile court, but the Court of Appeals addressed it for remand purposes. When the Troxel safeguards are applied, the Children’s Code authorizes an APR to a nonparent in accordance with the child’s best interests, even over the objection of a parent, without requiring a demonstration of parental unfitness or significant harm to the child.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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