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In re Joshua M. - 256 Neb. 596, 591 N.W.2d 557 (1999)

Rule:

With regard to the adjudication and dispositional phases of juvenile proceedings, the purpose of the adjudication phase of the proceeding is to protect the interests of the child; the purpose of the dispositional phase is to determine placement and the rights of the parties in the action. Adjudication means that a child is a juvenile within the meaning of the Nebraska Juvenile Code whereas a disposition addresses promotion and protection of a juvenile's best interests. The Supreme Court of Nebraska has held that under the Nebraska Juvenile Code, the adjudication and dispositional phases may be combined into one hearing.

Facts:

Mitzi M. was the biological mother of Joshua, Jonathan, Jasmine, and Devon. In April 1995, while Mitzi was incarcerated, Joshua's father placed Joshua with the then Department of Social Services (DSS) (now known as the Department of Health and Human Services), stating both he and Mitzi were unable to care for Joshua. On August 25, a juvenile petition was filed on behalf of Joshua, alleging he was a child as defined under Neb. Rev. Stat. § 43-247(3)(a). Joshua was then placed without his paternal grandmother. Mitzi was released from prison, but she was again arrested on October 18, 1996. She voluntarily placed Jonathan, Jasmine, and Devon with DSS for 1 day. However, due to Mitzi’s continued incarceration, the three children were put in a group home or foster care. These actions were done without the children having been adjudicated. Thereafter, the State of Nebraska filed petitions to terminate Mitzi’s parental rights to all of her children. The juvenile court ruled that appellant had substantially, continuously, or repeatedly neglected the children and had refused to provide them necessary parental care and protection due to her frequent and lengthy incarcerations and that termination was justified under Neb. Rev. Stat. § 43-292(2). The juvenile court also determined Mitzi was unfit by reason of her habitual use of narcotic drugs and that her conduct was seriously detrimental to the health, morals, and well-being of all the children, a condition justifying termination under § 43-292(4). However, the appellate court reversed the juvenile court's order because the court failed to adjudicate the children prior to the entry of its order terminating Mitzi’s rights. The State of Nebraska appealed the appellate court’s decision.

Issue:

Must adjudication exist before a court can order the termination of a parent’s right over her children?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of Nebraska concluded that, as a matter of law, when accompanied by due process safeguards, an adjudication is not required prior to termination of parental rights under Neb. Rev. Stat. § 43-292(1) through (5) (Cum. Supp. 1996) as they existed at the time of the termination hearing. The court also noted that the evidence was sufficient to support the juvenile court's order terminating Mitzi's parental rights to Jonathan, Jasmine, and Devon and that termination was in the children's best interests. Furthermore, the court held that under the Nebraska Juvenile Code, the adjudication and dispositional phases may be combined into one hearing.

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