Session January 26, 2017
from the Chancery Court for Roane County No. 2014-AD-457
Frank V. Williams, III, Chancellor
appeal concerns the termination of parental rights. Glenn V.
("Grandfather") filed a petition in the Chancery
Court for Roane County ("the Trial Court") seeking
to terminate the parental rights of his son, Christopher V.
("Father"), and Makara G. ("Mother") to
their minor children, Karissa and Makilee ("the
Children"). After a trial, the Trial Court terminated
Father's and Mother's parental rights on the grounds
of abandonment by failure to support and failure to visit.
The Trial Court also granted Grandfather's motion for
adoption. Father and Mother filed appeals to this Court. We,
inter alia, reverse the ground of failure to visit
with respect to both parents. We also reverse the ground of
failure to support with respect to Mother. However, we affirm
the ground of failure to support with respect to Father. We
find further that termination of Father's parental rights
is in the Children's best interest. We affirm, in part,
and reverse, in part, the judgment of the Trial Court.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery
Court Affirmed, in Part, and Reversed, in Part; Case Remanded
Zachariah Stansell, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant,
N. Foster, Rockwood, Tennessee, for the appellant, Makara G.
W. Cash, Jr., Kingston, Tennessee, for the appellee, Glenn V.
Michael Swiney, C.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which Charles D. Susano, Jr. and Thomas R. Frierson, II, JJ.,
MICHAEL SWINEY, CHIEF JUDGE
case concerns the termination of Father's and
Mother's parental rights to the Children, Karissa and
Makilee, born 2011 and 2013 respectively. Both of the
Children were born exposed to drugs. The Children were placed
in the temporary custody of Father's father, Grandfather.
On December 5, 2014, Grandfather filed a petition seeking to
terminate Father's and Mother's parental rights to
the Children and for adoption of the Children. In July 2015,
Grandfather filed an amended petition to terminate parental
upon a finding of indigency, was appointed counsel. In a July
2015 motion, Mother's counsel requested that she be
permitted to withdraw from the case citing
"irreconcilable differences." Mother's counsel
expressed frustration as shown in her billing records at
Mother's alleged failure to communicate with her. The
Trial Court, however, never entered an order disposing of the
motion to withdraw. Mother's counsel texted Mother in the
lead-up to trial. A month or so before trial, Mother's
counsel attempted to call Mother and left a message. Mother
did not appear at the February 2016 trial. Mother's
counsel elected to proceed with the case despite Mother's
testified at trial. Grandfather, 45, was a concrete finisher
by trade and a small business owner. Grandfather testified
that he had taken custody of the Children via court order.
Grandfather stated that he kept a detailed visitation log for
Mother's visits. Grandfather proceeded to recount the
dates Mother missed visitation in the relevant four-month
period prior to the filing of the petition, although there
was confusion in the testimony as to whether Mother missed 17
visits or visited 17 times. Grandfather testified that Mother
had paid him no child support from August 2014 onward.
Regarding Father, Grandfather kept no detailed visitation
log, but stated that Father visited "[n]ot as much as .
. . the Court ordered." Grandfather stated that when
Father did visit he mostly texted and paid little attention
to the Children. Grandfather stated that Father paid him no
child support, and that, in fact, Grandfather had paid
certain bills for Father. Grandfather stated that Father now
was living in an apartment with a girlfriend. Grandfather
also testified to an incident when he found Father sticking a
needle in his arm. Grandfather testified that Father worked
for him periodically over the years. Grandfather testified:
Q. When did Chris work for you?
A. Well, he just works periodically. I mean, he's -- I
mean, I couldn't call him really a steady employee.
Q. Why not?
A. You know, he's -- throughout his whole life, whenever
he's turned 18, he's could have had a job, and
he's failed to do so.
Q. So when has he worked for you?
A. Well, periodically throughout his -- until he was 17, 18,
until he got out of school. I mean, he --
Q. So in 2014, when did he work for you? Rough dates or
A. I think -- 2014, I don't think he worked much with me
Q. What about 2013?
A. Not much. Very, very, very little at all.
A. Very little at all.
A. Very little at all.
A. He's picked up to -- I could say probably three out of
-- days a week.
Q. Every week?
A. Well, no. This is '16. I'm sorry, I've got my
years mixed up. I'd say probably -- well, I'd really
have to look at my records. Probably I think I sent him some
tax thing last year, 2015, he might have made $2, 300.00.
Let's do it that way. That way I can remember that.
Q. The tax thing you sent him for the year before that, was
it more or less?
A. I think it was less.
Q. The reason why I ask is that we had multiple days of
hearings in the lower Juvenile Court, do you remember those?
Q. And every time we had those, you testified that he was
working for you at that time, so that's why I'm
asking about when was he working, since you said that he
would work with you some. But every time we've been in
court before, you said he was working with you. Was he only
working around the court dates, was he working between the
A. Well, it seemed like every time we had to go to court, he
would work more.
Q. And that's your perception of it?
A. Yeah, that's pretty much.
Q. So as we're sitting here today, you can't really
say when Chris has worked with you like how many days
he's worked with you the past several years?
A. No, not without looking at something. But, no, I mean, I
could go back to the records. I know last year, like his tax,
because I do them, and I have the tax lady do them, and I
mail them out and I look at them, you know. He might have
made a couple thousand dollars last year. He gets $10.00 and
$12.00 an hour, so, you know, you can figure that out on your
finger, I guess, how much money that is, how much he's
Q. Has that been consistent through the past nine years?
Q. Because you said he's been working since he was 17.
You said you believe he's 26?
Q. That would be nine years?
Q. And so you think he's worked enough to make a couple
thousand dollars every year since he was 17?
A. Yes, pretty close, yeah.
testified that there was no court order establishing
Father's child support. Grandfather stated further that
prior to the filing of his petition he never asked Father to
pay child support. In response to a question about
visitation, Grandfather agreed that Father and Mother visited
"substantially" although "not as much as they
were allowed." When asked why he filed a petition to
terminate parental rights, Grandfather testified:
Because the parents ain't getting no better at all. And I
mean, we keep getting, like I say, evidence and everything
that looks toward they're not getting well. And again,
these kids need love, safe environmental home that they can
grow up and be children and have something in life whenever
they grow up and get older.
Denee Foisy, a social worker who had worked with Mother,
testified as follows:
Q. In terms of parenting skills, do you consider somebody who
has been in and out of jail a proper parent?
A. All I could tell you is on what I witnessed, because I
can't give professional advice on whether or not I think
she should be a parent or not for those children. But all I
can tell you is what I observed. And what I observed, she
looked really good from what I saw. She didn't need any
T., an acquaintance of Mother's, testified. Robert T.,
wishing to help Mother given her difficult work and family
circumstances, had provided Mother with a cell phone to use
and planned to hire her as a secretary. Robert T. stated that
he told Mother that she was not to engage in any illegal
activity on the phone. Robert T. testified that Mother
nevertheless stole about $300 from him. Robert T. retrieved
the phone from Mother. At some point, the police confiscated
the phone. Robert T. testified to text messages he found on
the phone that Mother used regarding drugs sales, including
"30 is 750. That covers the cost in full. The rest
should be split. I'm tired of being given the short end
all the time." Another text read: "OK then you owe
me two pills from who ever takes you then. You know we sell
40 of them at $20 each to 1 person the second we get them, to
get our $ back." Mother's counsel objected
strenuously to admitting the text messages. Mother's
counsel argued that they were not properly authenticated, and
that, for all anyone knew, Robert T. sent them himself.
Mother's counsel pointed out that Mother was not present
to refute Robert T.'s account, to which the Trial Court
stated "it would behoove [Mother] to show up to Court,
" Robert T. testified that the messages had originally
been deleted, but that "the law" had pulled them
back up. Robert T. testified:
Q. Now, when did you -- I think you testified that you
retrieved the cell phone. What were the circumstances when
you retrieved the cell phone?
A. I told you, the phone alerted me that the data was going
over and I confronted her about it and she tried to deny it.
And I said, well, you know, part of it was letting me look at
the phone. She said, well, come and get it. And then I come
up there and got it and she had deleted everything off of it.
Q. She deleted everything?
A. (Witness nods head.)
Q. And when exactly, it's an approximation, you said
around August 11th?
A. 12th I think it was.
Q. And so all of her text messages were deleted?
A. Yeah. I got my phone set up to where I can go through my
phone and pull records from hers.
Q. And so you were able to pull up this August 10th text
A. It actually pulled everything up for ...