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In re Jaceton B.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

March 30, 2015

IN RE JACETON B.

Assigned on Briefs February 9, 2015

Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Dickson County No. 01-14-005-CC A. Andrew Jackson, Judge

B. Kyle Sanders, Dickson, Tennessee, for the appellant, Mariaus K. [1]

Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter, Ryan L. McGehee, Assistant Attorney General, and Leslie Curry, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Tennessee Department of Children's Services.

Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Andy D. Bennett and Richard H. Dinkins, JJ., joined.

OPINION

FRANK G. CLEMENT, JR., JUDGE

Jaceton B. ("Jaceton") was born in December 2012 to Kristi B. ("Mother"). No father was listed on his birth certificate. Because Jaceton tested positive for cocaine and suffered from various health problems at birth, he was immediately removed from Mother's custody and placed in foster care. He has been living with the same foster family since that time.

Mother subsequently informed the Tennessee Department of Children's Services ("DCS") that Mariaus K. ("Father"), who had been in jail since Jaceton's birth, might be Jaceton's father. Genetic testing established Father's paternity of Jaceton on December 31, 2013.

DCS filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of both parents on January 22, 2014. The termination hearing took place in July 2014. Father participated at trial. Mother did not because she surrendered her parental rights in June 2014.

Certified copies of Father's felony convictions were admitted into evidence, which established that Father was convicted in May 2013 of two drug offenses for which he was sentenced to 11 years in prison. Jaceton's birth certificate was also introduced into evidence, and it indicated that Jaceton was less than one year old at the time of Father's sentencing. The DCS case manager assigned to Jaceton's foster family testified that she met with Father in prison to discuss his sentence, possible placement for Jaceton, and classes Father could take while incarcerated. She also testified that Jaceton was doing very well with his foster family and had recovered from his initial medical problems. She stated that his foster parents treated him as a member of the family, took him on vacations, and wanted to adopt him.

Father testified stating that he had known Mother was pregnant, but he did not know that he was Jaceton's father. He testified that he was denied parole in May 2014 and that his next parole hearing was scheduled for May 2016. He indicated that he was in the process of completing a rehabilitation program and GED courses while incarcerated. While he conceded that he was not currently in a position to care for Jaceton, Father stated that he expected to be released on parole in May 2016. Father understood that Jaceton had developed a bond with his foster family, but he did not want the trial court to terminate his parental rights because he wanted a "say-so with [his] child."

The trial court found that, pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(6), there were grounds for terminating Father's parental rights because he was sentenced to a prison term of ten or more years when the child was under eight years of age. The trial court also found that terminating Father's parental rights was in Jaceton's best interests because Father did not have a meaningful relationship with Jaceton and would not be in a position to care for him for at least two more years. In contrast, Jaceton's foster parents had taken care of Jaceton since birth and treated him as a member of the family. The trial court terminated Father's parental rights, and Father appealed. We affirm.

Standard of Review

Our review of the trial court's findings of fact in a termination proceeding is conducted de novo on the record with a presumption of correctness, unless the evidence preponderates otherwise. Tenn. R. App. P. 13(d); In re Bernard T., 319 S.W.3d 586, 596 (Tenn. 2010); In re Angela E., 303 S.W.3d 240, 246 (Tenn. 2010). "In light of the heightened burden of proof in [termination] proceedings . . . the reviewing court must then make its own determination regarding whether the facts, either as found by the trial court or as supported by a preponderance of the evidence, provide clear and convincing evidence that supports all the ...


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