Assigned on Briefs June 3, 2019
from the Chancery Court for Bradley County No. 2017-CV-113
Jerri S. Bryant, Chancellor
appeal involves the termination of a mother's parental
rights to her daughter. The trial court found by clear and
convincing evidence that grounds for termination were proven
and that it was in the best interest of the child to
terminate parental rights. Mother appeals but only challenges
whether the judgment is valid if the guardian ad litem was
not present for the termination hearing. After careful
review, we conclude that the presence of the guardian ad
litem could not be waived by the other parties at the trial
on the merits. Therefore, we vacate the judgment of the trial
court and remand for further proceedings.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery
Court Vacated and Remanded
Sheridan C.F. Randolph, Cleveland, Tennessee, for the
appellant, Heather O.
Francis Robinson, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellees,
Saron and James K.
D. McGee, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which
Richard H. Dinkins and John W. McClarty, JJ., joined.
D. McGEE, JUDGE
Facts & Procedural History
was born in 2011 to unmarried parents, Heather O.
("Mother") and Jeremiah C. ("Father"). In
July 2016, the trial court entered an order granting Saron K.
("Aunt") custody of Aliyah.
months later, on April 26, 2017, Aunt and her husband, James
K. ("Uncle"), filed a petition for termination of
parental rights and for adoption. Father joined the amended
petition as a petitioner and executed a separate document
consenting to the adoption. Mother, who was incarcerated,
filed a response in which she contested the termination of
her parental rights.
December 13, 2017, an order was entered appointing an
attorney to represent Mother and a guardian ad litem for
trial court held a hearing on November 20, 2018. Mother, who
was still incarcerated, participated in the hearing by cell
phone. At the beginning of the trial, the judge explained the
proceedings and named the attorneys whom she believed were
the attorneys of record, including the guardian ad litem. The
named attorneys did not confirm or deny their involvement in
the case. After direct examination of the first witness, the
attorney for Aunt and Uncle informed the court that the
guardian ad litem was not present. He believed that she was
on maternity leave.
trial court allowed the attorneys to speak with their clients
to determine if they wished to proceed with the hearing.
After a series of questions, Mother consented on the record
to proceeding without the presence of the guardian ad litem.
The attorney for Aunt and Uncle asserted that they had full
decision-making authority in Aliyah's life and did not
object to proceeding with the trial.The court allowed the trial