Assigned On Briefs February 25, 2015
Direct Appeal from the Chancery Court for Dyer County No. 13AA12 Tony A. Childress, Chancellor
Vanedda Prince Webb, Dyersburg, Tennessee, for the appellant, Gary S.
John W. Palmer and Julie W. Palmer, Dyersburg, Tennessee, for the appellees, Kenneth Matthew H. and Crystal H.
Brandon O. Gibson, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., and Kenny Armstrong, J., joined.
BRANDON O. GIBSON, JUDGE
I. Background and Procedural History
Jarett M. (the "child") was born in 2008 in Dyersburg, Tennessee to Petitioner/Appellee Crystal H. ("Mother") and Respondent/Appellant Gary S. ("Father"). Mother and Father were never married but lived together as a couple with Mother's father, Bobby M., after the child's birth. In June 2010, Mother and Father separated; Mother and the child continued living with Bobby M. Between June 2010 and June 2011, Father had visitation with the child on several occasions. In June 2011, Mother married Petitioner/Appellant Kenneth Matthew H. (hereinafter "Stepfather" or "Matthew H."). Mother testified that she stopped hearing from Father around that time and that he had not had visitation with the child since then.
On October 2, 2013, Mother and Stepfather filed a Petition for Adoption in the Dyer County Chancery Court seeking to terminate Father's parental rights and seeking court approval of Stepfather's adoption of the child ("original petition"). Though the original petition sought termination of Father's parental rights, it did not allege facts serving as basis for the termination. On March 27, 2014, Father filed a response and counter-petition seeking dismissal of the original petition for failure to allege such facts and seeking an order to establish parenting time with the child. Mother and Stepfather subsequently filed a motion to amend the original petition, which the trial court granted. On July 23, 2014, Mother and Stepfather filed an "Amended and Restated Petition for Adoption" ("amended petition"). As grounds for termination, the amended petition alleged that Father had willfully failed and neglected to exercise any visitation with the child for over one year prior to the filing of the original petition. The amended petition further alleged that Father had willfully failed and neglected to provide financial support of any kind to the child for over one year immediately preceding the filing of the original petition. The amended petition also sought court approval of Matthew H.'s adoption of the child.
The trial court conducted a bench trial on the amended petition on August 28, 2014. The trial court heard testimony from Mother, Father, Stepfather, Bobby M., and several other relatives of both Mother and Father. The trial court announced its decision at the conclusion of the bench trial and entered a written order on September 24, 2014. For reasons discussed in further detail below, the trial court found that Mother and Stepfather demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence that Father abandoned the child by failing to visit or provide support for the child from June 2011 through the date of the hearing. The trial court also found that termination of Father's parental rights was in the child's best interest. Additionally, the trial court found that the adoption of the child by Stepfather was in the child's best interests. Based on its findings, the trial court terminated the parental rights of Father and ordered that "[t]he relationship of parent and child be . . . established between [Stepfather] and the child as if the child had been born to Stepfather." Father filed a timely appeal.
II. Issues Presented
Father presents the following issues, which we have slightly reworded, for review on appeal:
1. Whether the trial court erred in considering Father's actions in the four-month period preceding the filing of the original petition to ...