Assigned on Briefs November 1, 2017
from the Chancery Court for White County No. 2016-CV-60
Ronald Thurman, Chancellor
mother appeals the termination of parental rights to her son
on the grounds of abandonment by willful failure to visit and
willful failure to support. Mother appeals, arguing that the
termination of her rights is not supported by the record.
After a thorough review, we conclude that the proof does not
clearly and convincingly establish that Mother willfully
failed to visit or support the child. We reverse the judgment
of the trial court and dismiss the petition for termination.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery
Jonathan T. Hutson, Sparta, Tennessee, for the appellant,
Michael H. Knowlton, Cookeville, Tennessee, for the
appellees, Charles B. and Unika B.
K. Tollison, III, McMinnville, Tennessee, for the appellee,
Christopher B. 
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.
RICHARD H. DINKINS, JUDGE
an appeal of the termination of a Mother's parental
rights to her son. Ethan B. was born in October 2011 to
Sabrina B. and Christopher B. Sabrina B. ("Mother")
in the care of her friend Unika B. and her husband Charles B.
(together, "Petitioners") in September 2013 before
she was incarcerated. Around the same time, the Department of
Children's Services ("DCS") received a referral
of environmental neglect and drug-exposed child relating to
Ethan. After having some difficulty locating Ethan, DCS found
him in the safekeeping of Unika B. DCS thereafter filed a
petition on January 7, 2014, seeking to have Ethan
adjudicated dependent and neglected and for the court
"to award temporary legal custody of the child to
DCS/Unika [B.]" The court entered a "Kinship
Protective Custody Order" that day, granting Unika B.
custody of Ethan and ordering DCS to directly supervise all
contact between him and his parents. On January 30, 2014,
Father, Mother, Unika B., a DCS family services worker, and
the guardian ad litem created a non-custodial
permanency plan for Ethan. On June 12, 2014, the court
entered an order which recited that Mother and Father
stipulated that Ethan was dependent and neglected;
adjudicated Ethan to be dependent and neglected; held that
the adjudication was necessary because "[t]he parents
were incarcerated and unable to care for the child"; and
ordered that "custody shall remain with Unika
[B.]." In August 2014, following her release from
incarceration and her willingness to follow the
recommendations of the parenting plan, Mother was given a
trial home visitation. The home visitation was terminated in
November 2014 upon DCS's motion when Mother failed a drug
test. Mother was apparently re-incarcerated at
some point following the termination of the home visitation
and remained incarcerated through October 9,
2015.Father was incarcerated through December
April 25, 2016, Petitioners filed the petition to terminate
the parental rights of Sabrina B. and Christopher B. and to
adopt Ethan, on the grounds of abandonment by failure to
support, failure to visit, failure to establish a suitable
home, and by engaging in conduct that exhibited wanton
disregard for the welfare of Ethan B. A trial was conducted
on February 23, 2017, at which the following witnesses
testified: Robert Kelsie, Mother's drug and alcohol
counselor; Unika and Charles B.; Donald H., Unika's
father; and Teresa Jackson, DCS case manager.
court entered an Amended Judgment on April 11,  terminating
Mother's and Father's parental rights on the grounds
of abandonment by willful failure to visit and support; the
court dismissed the other grounds alleged in the petition.
Mother appeals the termination of her rights.
Standard of Review
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).
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 accordance with Tenn. R. App. P. 13(d).
Id. We must then 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. Id. In this regard, clear and convincing
evidence is "evidence in which there is no serious or
substantial doubt about the correctness of the conclusions
drawn from the evidence" and which "produces a firm
belief or conviction in the fact-finder's mind regarding
the truth of the facts sought to be established." In
re Alysia S., 460 S.W.3d 536, 572 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2014)
(internal citations omitted).
is identified as a ground for termination in Tennessee Code
Annotated section 36-1-116(g)(1); pertinent to this appeal,
"abandonment" is ...