Assigned on Briefs October 1, 2014
Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Montgomery County No. 132029, 132030 Wayne C. Shelton, Judge
Wayne D. Hibbeler, Clarksville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Patrick C.
Julie M. Reyes, Clarksville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Leslie J.
Robert E. Cooper, Attorney General and Reporter; and Leslie Curry, Assistant Attorney General; for the appellee, Tennessee Department of Children's Services.
W. Neal McBrayer, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S., and Andy D. Bennett, J., joined.
W. NEAL McBRAYER, Judge.
I. Background and Procedural History
This case involves the termination of the parental rights of Patrick C. ("Father") and Leslie J. ("Mother") to their children, Patrick J. and Kendall J. The Department of Children's Services ("DCS") received a referral in regards to the oldest child, Patrick J., suggesting he might be the victim of environmental abuse and neglect. On March 1, 2012, DCS took Patrick J. into custody because Mother was incarcerated and Father tested positive for marijuana, cocaine, and benzodiazepines. Mother was released from jail on October 23, 2012, and Kendall J. was born a few weeks later. Father was not present for the birth because, by that time, he was incarcerated.
Just two days after her birth, Kendall J. was also taken into DCS custody. The hospital alleged that she was drug-exposed. Mother tested positive for barbiturates, though the positive test could have been the result of medicine administered by the hospital. Patrick J. was adjudicated dependent and neglected on January 17, 2013, and Kendall J. was adjudicated dependent and neglected on April 25, 2013.
A permanency plan was created on December 3, 2012, and Mother and Father signed the plan on January 16, 2013. The plan prohibited Mother and Father from using illegal drugs, using prescription drugs in a non-prescribed manner, or using alcohol while in the presence of the children. Father was ordered to undergo an alcohol and drug assessment and follow the recommendations based on the assessment. Based on her alcohol and drug assessment, Mother had no drug treatment recommendations to follow. Both parents agreed to submit to random drug screens; visit the children in accordance with the visitation plan; pay child support; and complete parenting classes. They further agreed to complete anger management courses because of a past history of domestic violence; provide the children with a stable home environment; find a legal means of income; and attend therapy sessions.
DCS filed a petition to terminate parental rights on May 3, 2013. At the time the petition was filed, DCS was unable to locate either parent and had to seek an order of publication in order to serve them. The petition alleged numerous grounds for termination, as well as asserting that termination was in the best interest of the children. The grounds for termination included: (1) abandonment for failure to visit the children in the four months preceding the filing of the petition; (2) abandonment for failure to support the children in the four months preceding the filing of the petition; (3) abandonment by an incarcerated parent who was in jail for all or part of the four months prior to the filing of the petition, and a failure to engage in more than token visitation in the four months prior to being incarcerated; (4) abandonment by an incarcerated parent for failure to provide support in the four months prior to being incarcerated; (5) wanton disregard for the welfare of the children; (6) failure to provide a suitable home; (7) substantial non-compliance with the permanency plan; (8) persistent conditions; and, (9) in regards to Father's relationship with Kendall J., failure to establish or exercise paternity. The Juvenile Court for Montgomery County held a hearing on the petition to terminate on February 12, 2014.
At the hearing, the trial court heard the testimony of Mother and Father, Father's probation officer, and three employees from DCS. Much of the testimony focused on Mother's and Father's compliance with the permanency plan. The testimony revealed that Father had accomplished some of the permanency plan requirements. He had successfully completed the parenting and the anger management classes and was attending therapy sessions. Father had also visited the children every week and brought them snacks. However, Father admitted that he never paid any child support while the children were in DCS custody.
Father had particular difficulty in complying with those permanency plan requirements relating to his illegal drug use and abuse of prescription medications. Although Father successfully completed an alcohol and drug assessment, he did not attend ninety AA/NA meetings in ninety days as recommended. Father tested positive for benzodiazepines on January 14, 2014, during a drug screen. Because he claimed to have a prescription for the medication, DCS requested a pill count when he next came to ...