Termination of Parental Rights Not in Child’s Best Interest in Decatur, Tennessee Severe Abuse Case: In re Aryana S.

June 1, 2020 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Facts: While pregnant with Child, Mother abused methamphetamine, amphetamines, and marijuana. While at the hospital, Mother used methamphetamine and was breastfeeding Child. Child was born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome and experienced withdrawal symptoms.

The Department of Children’s Services swiftly removed Child from Mother and placed Child in the custody of relatives. The juvenile court found Child to be dependent and neglected because Mother had severely abused Child through her drug use. Mother was restricted to supervised contact with Child.

The permanency plan required Mother to obtain mental health and drug addiction treatment, maintain stable housing, maintain a legal source of income, and several other requirements.

Mother satisfied those requirements, including going back to school to obtain a certified nursing assistant certification, maintaining her sobriety, and making other lasting changes to her lifestyle.

Tennessee termination of parental rights

The custodial relatives petitioned to terminate Mother’s parental rights.

While grounds were not an issue—Mother having severely abused Child through drug exposure—the trial court found there was not clear and convincing evidence that terminating Mother’s parental rights was in Child’s best interest:

Not only does termination under such circumstance strike this court as being fundamentally unfair to the parent, this court has serious and grave concerns as to how such a ruling would impact the efforts of DCS. If termination of parental rights can occur despite the parents’ compliance with an agreed-to [permanency] plan, what good are such plans? Further, termination under such circumstances would hamstring the efforts of DCS and render such agreements to be no more than a sham agreement which need not be honored or complied with. This court is unwilling to take such a position in light of sufficient facts demonstrating substantial compliance with the agreed-to [permanency] plan.

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[T]he proof in this case was clear to the court that [Mother] complied with most of the plan of action, and exceeded some of the requirements. Since the removal of her child, [Mother] attended community college and obtained her [certified nursing assistant] certificate. As a result, at the time of trial she had found stable employment. This led to the acquisition of appropriate housing and transportation. She testified that while she was no longer in alcohol/drug aftercare, she had successfully completed a program and that she remains sober. Additionally, [Mother] submitted evidence that she had completed a parenting course as well.

* * * * *

[Mother] put her child at risk and her parental rights at risk. If the story ended here, the court would terminate [Mother’s] parental rights. However, [Mother] has taken the right steps, at least to date and has become, albeit belatedly, a productive member of society.

The question becomes whether she should be stripped of her right to be a parent based upon her previous “sins.” This court thinks not. . . . To terminate the parental rights of a parent who has obviously erred and been punished, but then who has done everything asked of them is not a position this court will take. Doing so could very well remove the primary incentive for people such as [Mother] to take the steps she has taken and become a productive member of society.

The petition to terminate Mother’s parental rights was denied.

The custodial relatives appealed.

On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.

Termination of parental rights requires clear and convincing evidence that (1) grounds for termination have been established, and (2) termination is in the child’s best interest.

Although several factors relevant to the best-interest analysis are found at Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-1-113(i), the list is illustrative, not exclusive.

The Court found that the evidentiary record supported the trial court’s findings:

The evidence presented does not preponderate against the trial court’s findings of fact concerning best interest. However, in its best-interest analysis, the trial court seemed to place great emphasis on its concern with terminating the parental rights of a parent who has “largely or totally complied” with the requirements of a permanency plan. . . . The best-interest analysis is to be conducted according to the child’s best interests, not the parent’s. While relevant, a parent’s compliance with the requirements on a permanency plan is not the sole determinative factor when making a decision in a termination of parental rights case. Instead, the parent’s efforts are one of many factors to be considered by the trial court when making its decision concerning best interest.

Based on the evidence presented to the trial court and as found by the trial court, Mother has made significant progress in turning her life around. We note the high standard of clear and convincing evidence applicable to termination of parental rights cases. . . . Despite the trial court’s apparent emphasis on Mother’s progress on the requirements of the permanency plan, we find and hold, as did the trial court, that the entirety of the proof presented did not rise to the level of clear and convincing evidence that termination of Mother’s rights was in Child’s best interest. We find no reversible error in the trial court’s decision not to terminate Mother’s parental rights.

The Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment denying the petition to terminate Mother’s parental rights.

In re Aryana S. (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Eastern Section, May 21, 2020).

Termination of Parental Rights Not in Child’s Best Interest in Decatur, Tennessee Severe Abuse Case: In re Aryana S. was last modified: May 29th, 2020 by K.O. Herston

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