The Nevada Supreme Court has ruled a woman shouldn't lose parental rights to her daughter just because she was imprisoned on forgery charges.
The woman, identified only as Diana L. N., lost custody when she was sent back to prison for violating parole by leaving Wisconsin for Las Vegas. The high court ruled Friday on the case.
Despite her request her children not be left with the boyfriend who turned her in for the violation, they were returned to his custody. One subsequently suffered serious injuries suspected of being child abuse. The Division of Child and Family Services then moved to terminate her parental rights, saying the children were neglected and had been abandoned and the parents were unfit.
Child and Family Service officials agreed Diana had a strong relationship with her daughter, then 10. But they pointed out she wouldn't get out of prison for some time.
"Thus, the petition was based entirely on the general theory that the length of Diana's incarceration was too long to wait for a permanent placement," the opinion says.
The district court, however, agreed and terminated her parental rights. The mother appealed to the Supreme Court.
The high court, in an opinion by justices Miriam Shearing, Myron Leavitt and Nancy Becker, said the daughter wanted to be reunited with her mother and had a "firmly established, loving relationship" both with her mother and Diana's mother, her grandmother. They said she and the girl had made substantial and continuous efforts to maintain their close relationship.
They also said the felony conviction didn't involve any allegations of neglect of her children. The justices said even though Diana was unable to immediately fix her situation and take care of her daughter, the situation didn't warrant terminating her parental rights.
They agreed with the conclusion of numerous other courts that termination "should not be granted based on the parent's incarceration alone."
"In this case, the record establishes that termination resulted solely because Diana was incarcerated for more than 14 months," the opinion says.
The justices overturned the district court ruling and reinstated the mother's parental rights.