Assigned on Briefs April 10, 2015
Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Montgomery County Nos. 141134, 141135, 141136, 141137, 141138, 141139 Wayne C. Shelton, Judge
James R. Potter, Clarksville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Shannon R.
Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter, and Ryan L. McGehee, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellee, Tennessee Department of Children's Services.
ANDY D. BENNETT, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which RICHARD H. DlNKTNS and W.NEALMCBRAYER, JJ., joined.
ANDY D. BENNETT, JUDGE.
In this matter, the Tennessee Department of Children's Services ("the Department" or "DCS") seeks to terminate the parental rights of Shannon R. ("Mother") to Jordan L. R., Brendon M. R., Alyssa A. R., Aleigha Y. R., Alexis M. R., and Addison N. B. DCS involvement with the family began in 2009 when the children were removed from Mother because Aleigha tested positive for drugs at birth. The children returned to Mother for a trial home visit in September 2009, but it ended the following December when Mother tested positive for drugs and was a victim of domestic violence. Another trial home visit occurred in June 2010, but ended quickly when Mother tested positive for drugs. A third trial home visit began in August 2011 and ended in September 2011 due to Mother's drug use and the birth of Alexis, who was born drug exposed.
The Department filed the petition for termination of parental rights on April 3, 2014, alleging the grounds of abandonment by failing to visit and abandonment by incarcerated parent (wanton disregard). The trial court found that both of these grounds existed and that it was in the best interest of the children to terminate Mother's parental rights. Mother appealed.
Standard of Review
"A parent has a fundamental right to the care, custody, and control of his or her child." In re Serenity B., No. M2013-02685-COA-R3-PT, 2014 WL 2168553, at *1 (Term. Ct. App. May 21, 2014) (perm. app. denied July 14, 2014). Only when there is a compelling state interest may the state interfere with parental rights. Id. "An order terminating parental rights shall have the effect of severing forever all legal rights and obligations of the parent or guardian of the child against whom the order of termination is entered and of the child who is the subject of the petition to that parent or guardian." Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(1)(1).
Terminating a parent's fundamental parental rights has severe consequences; thus, termination cases require a higher standard of proof. In re Serenity B., 2014 WL 2168553, at *2. To terminate parental rights, the court must find by clear and convincing evidence that at least one statutory ground for termination exists and that termination is in the child's best interest. Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(c); In re F.R.R., III, 193 S.W.3d 528, 530 (Tenn. 2006). "Clear and convincing evidence 'establishes that the truth of the facts asserted is highly probable, and eliminates any serious or substantial doubt about the correctness of the conclusions drawn from the evidence.'" In re Serenity B., 2014 WL 2168553, at *2 (quoting In re M.J.B., 140 S.W.3d 643, 653 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2004) (internal citations omitted)).
This Court must review the trial court's factual findings de novo with a presumption of correctness, unless the evidence preponderates to the contrary. Id.; TENN. R. APP. P. 13(d). Upon reviewing a decision to terminate parental rights, this Court's duty is to "determine whether the facts, as found by the trial court or as supported by the preponderance of the evidence, clearly and convincingly establish the elements necessary to terminate parental rights." In re Serenity B., 2014 WL 2168553, at *2.
Abandonment by Failure ...