Assigned on Briefs August 4, 2014
Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Knox County No. 103553 Tim Irwin, Judge
Rebecca H. and Christopher H. ("Petitioners") filed a petition seeking to terminate the parental rights of Kayla H. ("Mother") and Aaron B. ("Father") to the minor child Hayden L.E.B. ("the Child"). After a trial the Juvenile Court for Knox County ("the Juvenile Court") terminated Father's parental rights to the Child after finding clear and convincing evidence of grounds for termination pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(1) and Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-102(1)(A)(iv) for abandonment by willful failure to pay support and abandonment by wanton disregard and clear and convincing evidence that it was in the Child's best interest for Father's parental rights to be terminated. Father appeals the termination of his parental rights to this Court. We find and hold that the evidence does not preponderate against the Trial Court's findings made by clear and convincing evidence, and we affirm.
Gregory E. Bennett, Seymour, Tennessee, for the appellant, Aaron B.
Robin Gunn, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellees, Rebecca H. and Christopher H.
D. Michael Swiney, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which John W. McClarty and Thomas R. Frierson, II, JJ., joined.
D. MICHAEL SWINEY, JUDGE
Father testified that he was incarcerated at the time of trial in July 2013 and had been for three years serving time for theft and receiving stolen goods. Father's sentence was four years. Father anticipated being released from prison in April of 2014. The Child was born in July of 2009, and was approximately 14 months old when Father was incarcerated.
Father last saw the Child in August of 2010 during a visitation just prior to his incarceration in September of 2010. The Child was residing with Petitioners at that time. Father testified that he always dealt with Petitioner Rebecca H. Father stated that Petitioner Christoper H. "was never in the picture."
Father testified that the Child had lived with him before going into Petitioners' custody. When asked how the Child came to be living with Petitioners and not with him, Father stated:
I was just into something bad, you know what I'm saying. He lived with me up to the year, you know what I'm saying. I already knew I was going to the penitentiary, and to leave him in the situation that he was in wouldn't be, you know what I'm saying, it wouldn't be right for him. I didn't want him to go to state's custody, so I let [Rebecca H.] have temporary custody of him until I got out.
Father was asked about the bad things he had testified he was into, and he admitted that he had been addicted to drugs. Father admitted that he was addicted to drugs during the time period prior to his current incarceration when he visited the Child. Father stated: "I was trying to get off of [the drugs]. I was going to a rehab. I never got the chance to go to rehab because I got sent to the penitentiary." Father was asked if he had had plans to go to rehab, and he stated: "No, I was waiting on a bed for Centre Point, like two months away, and I never got the chance, I went to court and they sent me to the penitentiary."
Father was asked about the time during which he was addicted to drugs after the Child's birth and whether he was committing crimes during that time period. Father answered: "Not the whole time. It was like when [the Child] was eight months old, that's when it started." Father stated he was stealing to support "[m]y child and my habit, yes, ma'am."
Father was asked if he ever sent any child support to Petitioners for the Child, and he stated: "Not at the time because they had had him for a couple of months." The Child went into Petitioners' physical custody in May of 2010, and Petitioners were granted final custody of the Child in August of 2010. Father was incarcerated the 21st or 22nd of September of 2010. Father was asked if he had paid any support for the Child during the specific four months prior to his incarceration, and he stated: "I was not notified I was supposed to. I mean, that wasn't part of the agreement." Father was asked if he was aware that there are expenses that go along with caring for a child, and he stated: "I'm pretty smart, yeah." Father admitted that although he knew that Petitioners were buying food, clothing, and diapers for the Child, he sent no support for the Child.
Father testified that he made the decision to allow Petitioners to have temporary custody of the Child. When asked why he did this, Father stated:
Because I thought - - he's still in a good place. I mean, I don't regret doing it today, you know what I'm saying, I respect them and everything. But, you know, I mean, he was going to a good place and I didn't want him to end up with somebody else.
Father was asked what was going on at home that caused him to think this, and he stated: "I mean, I hardly even stayed there. I didn't have a place. I mean, I hardly even stayed there with [Mother]. I didn't have a place to live, and it was just - - I already knew I was going to the penitentiary, I already knew it." Father admitted that he was addicted to drugs during the relevant time period prior to his incarceration and that he could not provide an appropriate and safe home for the Child. He also testified that he did not believe that being with Mother was an appropriate placement for the Child. Father testified that Mother still was not an appropriate placement and stated: "You can see she's not here [at ...