Application of Wrong Best-Interest Factors Examined in Murfreesboro, Tennessee Parental-Termination Case: In re Leah T.

July 10, 2023 K.O. Herston 1 Comments

Facts: Child was removed from Parents’ custody shortly after birth after suffering multiple injuries and placed in the custody of Foster Parents.

Five years later, in September 2020, Foster Parents petitioned to terminate Parents’ parental rights and adopt Child.

In April 2021, the statute containing the best-interest factors in parental-termination cases was amended to add several more factors that trial courts must consider.

In May 2021, Foster Parents amended their petition to add more grounds for termination.

The trial court found multiple grounds for termination and that termination was in Child’s best interest. The trial court cited the best-interest factors that existed when the original petition was filed in September 2020.

Mother appealed.

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

Tennessee law requires that new statutory best-interest factors must be considered when a termination petition is filed on or after the date the statute is amended.

Here, whether the amended version of the statute is applicable depends on whether the amended petition was “separate and distinct” from the original. Tennessee law provides that an amended petition is separate and distinct from the original when it includes new grounds for termination, as occurred here. Thus, the new statutory best-interest factors in effect at the time of the amended petition’s filing would be applicable.

Because the trial court did not apply the new best-interest factors, the Court vacated its ruling:

[Foster Parents’] amended termination petition was a separate and distinct petition insofar as it added statutory grounds for termination that were not included in the original petition. Because the amended petition became effective as of the trial court’s May 11, 2021, order granting the amendment, the trial court should have applied the 20 best-interest factors included in the amended statute, which took effect in April 2021. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court’s finding that termination of Mother’s parental rights was in Child’s best interest and remand for reconsideration of Child’s best interest employing the best-interest factors [as amended effective April 2021].

K.O.’s Comment: This case follows how Tennessee’s caselaw interprets the application of best-interest factors in both child-custody cases and parental-termination cases. While statutes are presumed to operate prospectively, there are exceptions. Procedural statutes apply retrospectively, not only to causes of action arising before the statutes become law but also to all those pending when the legislation takes effect unless the legislature says otherwise or immediate application of the new law would produce an unjust result. Procedural statutes are those considered to address the mode or proceeding by which a legal right is enforced as opposed to a law that gives or defines the right, i.e., the machinery as opposed to the product.

Source: In re Leah T. (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, June 22, 2023).

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Application of Wrong Best-Interest Factors Examined in Murfreesboro, Tennessee Parental-Termination Case: In re Leah T. was last modified: July 4th, 2023 by K.O. Herston

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