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In re S.C.M.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

March 2, 2015

In re S.C.M. et al

Assigned on Briefs December 10, 2014

Appeal from the Chancery Court for Hawkins County No. 2012-AD-35 Douglas T. Jenkins, Chancellor

This is a termination of parental rights case regarding S.C.M. and T.O.J.M. (collectively, the Children), the minor children of H.C. (Mother) and B.M. (Father). After both parents were arrested, the Children's maternal grandparents, R.R. and T.R. (collectively, the Grandparents) obtained temporary, emergency custody. Nearly three years later, the Grandparents filed a petition seeking to (1) terminate both parents' rights and (2) adopt the Children. Following a trial, the court terminated both parents' rights. Father appeals.[1] We affirm.

Whitney Bailey, Kingsport, Tennessee, for the appellant, B.M.

Daniel G. Boyd, Rogersville, Tennessee, for the appellees, R.R. and wife, T.R.

Charles D. Susano, Jr., C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which D. Michael Swiney and John W. McClarty, JJ., joined.

OPINION

CHARLES D. SUSANO, JR., CHIEF JUDGE.

I.

The Children are twins, a boy and a girl, born in August 2009 to Mother and Father, an unmarried couple. Some five months later, the Grandparents received a call from the Unicoi County Sheriff's Department asking them to take custody of the Children on an emergency basis because both parents had been arrested and were in jail.[2] Subsequently, the Children were adjudicated dependent and neglected; the juvenile court ordered that custody would remain with the Grandparents as the Children's legal guardians. In the ensuing four to five months, Father regularly traveled from his home in Surgoinsville to the Grandparents' home in Greeneville to visit the Children. In June 2010, he was incarcerated and his contact with the Children ceased.

In October 2012, the Grandparents filed a petition to terminate the parents' rights and adopt the Children. By that time, the Children had lived with the Grandparents continuously for almost three years. The Grandparents sought termination of both parents' rights to the Children as the initial step in the adoption process.

Trial was held on June 16, 2014. Father participated via telephone from Keen Mountain Correctional Center in Oakwood, Virginia, where he had been incarcerated for the past four years. The proof reflected that, at the time of the commission of the Unicoi County offenses, Father was on probation from a 2006 Virginia conviction for involuntary manslaughter. As a result of the new Tennessee charges, Father's probation was revoked and he was ordered to serve the remainder of his sentence in Virginia. Father testified that he had made efforts to maintain contact with the Children from prison by writing cards on holidays. He also had requested that grandmother send him pictures of the Children, but she had not complied with his request. Father conceded that he had not paid any child support since the Children had come into the Grandparents' custody, but said that on occasion he purchased diapers and clothing for them. Father testified that, upon his release, he intended to "work and be a part of my children's life and be the best father I can be."

T.R., grandmother, was the only other witness at trial. She essentially testified that the Grandparents had developed a bond with the Children and had been with them, for the past four years, "every step of the way." Grandmother testified, "we take care of all their needs, . . . we just take care of everything, . . . and just we love them." She concluded that the Children were "where they belong."

After trial, the court found that two of the three alleged grounds for termination were proven[3] – abandonment by failure to pay child support and conduct of Father demonstrating a wanton disregard for the Children's welfare. The trial court further found that termination was in the Children's best interest. Both findings were said by the court to be based upon clear and convincing evidence. Father filed a timely notice of appeal.

II.

Father raises the following issues for our review:

1.Whether the trial court erred in finding by clear and convincing evidence that [Father] willfully abandoned the minor children pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-102(A)(iv) [(2014)].[4]
2.Whether the trial court erred in finding by clear and convincing evidence that termination of [Father's] parental rights is ...

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