Termination of Parental Rights Not in Child’s Best Interest in Blount County, Tennessee: In re Allyson P.

June 24, 2020 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Facts: While driving with Child, Mother was stopped by the police. The officer found methamphetamine, arrested Mother, and placed Child with the Department of Children’s Services (DCS).

Shortly thereafter, the juvenile court granted DCS custody.

Mother pleaded guilty to felony possession of methamphetamine. She was sentenced to 10 years’ incarceration, with 123 days to be served in prison and the remainder on supervised probation.

Child was later found to be dependent and neglected in Mother’s care.

download (1)At the dispositional hearing, the proof showed that Mother had complied with extensive substance abuse counseling and rehabilitation and was 15 months sober.

Her therapist described her as “dedicated and consistent” in her recovery program.

The person who supervised Mother’s visitation with Child opined that they had a “substantial and meaningful relationship,” so removing Mother from Child’s life would be “detrimental.”

The trial court found grounds for terminating Mother’s parental rights and that it was in Child’s best interest to do so.

Mother appealed.

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

Once a ground for termination has been proven by clear and convincing evidence, a Tennessee court must determine whether it is in the best interest of the child for the parent’s rights to be terminated, again using the clear and convincing evidence standard.

Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-1-113(i) lists factors Tennessee courts must consider in determining the child’s best interest.

While the facts considered in the best-interest analysis must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence, Tennessee courts must consider the combined weight of those facts to determine whether they amount to clear and convincing evidence that termination is in the child’s best interest.

Noting that “this is not an easy determination by any means,” the Court concludes the proof did not satisfy the heightened standard of proof to conclude that the termination of Mother’s parental rights is in Child’s best interest:

The primary goal in both permanency plans . . . has been to return Child to Mother. The tasks assigned to Mother in the plans were intended to address the situation that brought Child into DCS custody—Mother’s addiction and related behavior; the record shows that . . . Mother has been on track since then and done everything DCS and the Recovery Court have required. We do not discount the fact that Child has been in foster care for over a year and has bonded with the foster family; those are facts that make this a difficult decision for this court and, we are confident, the trial court.

The Court said its reasoning follows this statement from In re Gabriella D., which the Court quoted in its entirety:

By so holding, we do not at all condone or excuse the conduct that resulted in the removal of these children from Mother’s custody. . . . And we certainly do not minimize the genuine concern and affection Foster Parents have for these children. Our decision instead results from an objective and comprehensive review of the record to determine whether the facts presented satisfy the constitutionally mandated heightened standard of proof. This heightened standard is designed specifically to reduce the risk of erroneous decisions depriving parents of their precious and fundamental rights to the care and custody of children. In this case, the heightened standard was not satisfied. . . . The proof in this case establishes that Mother has been able to make the necessary adjustments. This is precisely how the system is designed to function. Should Mother revert to the reprehensible conduct that started the process that culminates with this decision, DCS will have the option of filing a termination petition, and the [trial] court’s finding of [grounds] has not been disturbed on appeal.

The Court reversed the trial court’s judgment terminating Mother’s parental rights.

K.O.’s Comment: The reasoning here is consistent with the recent opinion in In re Aryana S. Lawyers representing parents in termination cases can use these opinions to motivate their clients. These examples show that a parent who complies with the terms of their permanency plan stands an excellent chance of retaining their parental rights.

In re Allyson P. (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Eastern Section, June 17, 2020).

Termination of Parental Rights Not in Child’s Best Interest in Blount County, Tennessee: In re Allyson P. was last modified: June 21st, 2020 by K.O. Herston

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