Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

In re Colby L.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

May 24, 2017

IN RE COLBY L.[1]

          Assigned on Briefs April 3, 2017

         Appeal from the Chancery Court for Hamilton County No. 15-A-012 Pamela A Fleenor, Chancellor

         Mother appeals the termination of her parental rights on the grounds of abandonment by willful failure to visit and support, contending that her failure to visit and support was not willful. Discerning no error, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery Court Affirmed

          Lauren L. Sherrell, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellant, Beth A. M.

          Hannah C. Stokes, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellee, Christopher D. L. and Wendy G.L.

          Terri Braswell Gilbert, Ooltewah, Tennessee, Guardian Ad Litem.

          Richard H. Dinkins, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which D. Michael Swiney, C. J., and J. Steven Stafford, P. J., W. S., joined.

          OPINION

          RICHARD H. DINKINS, JUDGE

         This appeal arises out of an action to terminate the parental rights of Beth A.M. ("Mother") to her son, Colby L., brought by Colby's father, Christopher D.L. ("Father") and stepmother, Wendy G.L. ("Stepmother"). Mother's rights were terminated on the grounds of abandonment by willful failure to visit and willful failure to support, and upon a finding that termination of her rights would be in Colby's best interest. Mother does not contest the fact that she did not visit for three years prior to the filing of the petition, but argues that her failure to visit was not willful. Further, Mother does not contest the fact that she did not support the child for a period of three years prior to the filing of the petition but argues that her failure to support was due to her inability to make support payments.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         Colby L. was born in June 2005; by order entered in the Superior Court of Walker County, Georgia, on December 13, 2011, nunc pro tunc to September 20, 2011, custody was awarded to Father. At the time the order was entered, Mother was residing with Robert B.; the order provided that Mother's visitation would be supervised as long as she resided with him. Until August 2012, Mother's visitation was supervised by Four Points, Inc., of Lafayette, Georgia.

         In August of 2012, visitation records show that Colby informed Mother, Father, and the Four Points staff members that he no longer wanted to visit Mother and wanted to continue living with Father. Of her own volition, Mother has not visited Colby since that time. Mother testified that a few months after her visits stopped she "[went] back to Four Points a few months later and they said that since the visits had stopped that there was no way to be able to get the visits to go back." In December 2013, she attempted to visit with him during a church service but was not permitted to do so.

         On April 23, 2015, Father and Stepmother filed a petition to terminate Mother's parental rights and to allow Stepmother to adopt Colby. As grounds for termination, the petition alleged abandonment by failure to visit and failure to support, Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-1-102(1)(A)(i). On August 20, 2015, the court appointed Attorney Terri Gilbert as guardian ad litem for Colby.

         The matter was heard on July 26, 2016, and on August 3, the court entered an order terminating Mother's rights on the grounds of willful failure to visit and willful failure to support and upon a finding that termination of Mother's rights was in Colby's best interest. Mother appeals, articulating the following issue:

1) Whether the Trial Court erred in finding the Appellant to have willfully abandoned her child pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(1) and § 36-1-1-2(1)(A)(i) when the record shows the Appellant made an attempt to see her child during the four (4) consecutive months before the petition to terminate her parental rights was filed; 2) furthermore, the Trial Court failed to make a finding as to whether the Appellant's attempts to visit her child may have been impeded or interfered with prior to the four consecutive months before the petition to terminate her parental rights was filed.

         II. Standard of Review

         Parents have a fundamental right to the care, custody, and control of their children. Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 651 (1972); In re Adoption of A.M.H., 215 S.W.3d 793, 809 (Tenn. 2007). However, that right is not absolute and may be terminated in certain circumstances. Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 753-54 (1982); State Dep't of Children's Serv. v. C.H.K., 154 S.W.3d 586, 589 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2004). The statutes on termination of parental rights provide the only authority for a court to terminate a parent's rights. Osborn v. Marr, 127 S.W.3d 737, 739 (Tenn. 2004). Thus, parental rights may be terminated only where a statutorily defined ground exists. Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(c)(1); Jones v. Garrett, 92 S.W.3d 835, 838 (Tenn. 2002); In re M.W.A., 980 S.W.2d 620, 622 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1998). To support the termination of parental rights, only one ground need be proved, so long as it is proved by clear and convincing evidence. In the Matter of D.L.B., 118 S.W.3d 360, 367 (Tenn. 2003).

         Because the decision to terminate parental rights affects fundamental constitutional rights and carries grave consequences, courts must apply a higher standard of proof when adjudicating termination cases. Santosky, 455 U.S. at 766-69. A court may terminate a person's parental rights only if (1) the existence of at least one statutory ground is proved by clear and convincing evidence and (2) it is shown, also by clear and convincing evidence that termination of the parent's rights is in the best interest of the child. Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(c); In re Adoption of A.M.H., 215 S.W.3d at 808- 09; In re Valentine, 79 S.W.3d 539, 546 (Tenn. 2002). In light of the heightened standard of proof in these cases, a reviewing court must adapt the customary standard of review set forth by Tenn. R. App. P. 13(d). In re M.J.B., 140 S.W.3d 643, 654 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2004). As to the court's findings of fact, our review is de novo with a presumption of correctness unless the evidence preponderates otherwise, in ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.