IN RE KHLOE B. ET AL.
Session July 19, 2019
from the Chancery Court for Washington County No. 18-AD-0043
John C. Rambo, Chancellor
B. ("Mother") appeals the judgment of the
Washington County Chancery Court ("Trial Court")
terminating her parental rights to the children, Khloe B. and
Madison B. ("the Children"). Upon petition of
Matthew B. ("Father") and Amanda B.
"Petitioners"), the Trial Court found that Mother
had abandoned the Children by her actions exhibiting wanton
disregard for the Children's welfare and that termination
of Mother's parental rights was in the Children's
best interest. The Trial Court, therefore, terminated
Mother's parental rights to the Children. Discerning no
error, we affirm.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery
Court Affirmed; Case Remanded
Michelle Caggiano, Johnson City, Tennessee, for the
appellant, Kristin B. 
Ratliff, Johnson City, Tennessee, for the appellees, Matthew
B. and Amanda B.
Michael Swiney, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which John W. McClarty and Thomas R. Frierson, II, JJ.,
MICHAEL SWINEY, CHIEF JUDGE.
action commenced on January 26, 2018 when Petitioners filed a
petition with the Trial Court seeking to terminate the
parental rights of Mother to the Children. In their petition
to terminate Mother's parental rights, Petitioners allege
as grounds that Mother abandoned the Children by failing to
visit or financially support the Children during the four
months prior to the petition's filing and that Mother had
failed to manifest an ability and willingness to assume
custody or financial responsibility for the Children.
Petitioners further allege that termination of Mother's
parental rights is in the Children's best interest.
January 2018, a notice to incarcerated parent was filed with
the Trial Court reflecting a certificate of service to Mother
at the Washington County Detention Center in Jonesborough,
Tennessee. Upon Mother's request, an attorney was
appointed to represent her in this matter. Mother
subsequently filed an answer in March 2018, denying both that
statutory grounds existed to terminate Mother's parental
rights and that termination was in the Children's best
was conducted on September 4 and 18, 2018. At the beginning
of trial during opening statements, Mother's attorney
stated: "We've prepared to proceed in regards to the
Wanton Disregard because mother was incarcerated, she would
stipulate to the fact that she was incarcerated in October of
2017." Later during the trial, Mother's attorney
informed the Trial Court that Mother was not objecting to
wanton disregard being tried as a ground for the termination
of Mother's parental rights.
trial, Pamela Hensley, Khloe's kindergarten teacher,
testified that Stepmother was present during most field
trips. According to Ms. Hensley, Stepmother was "very
active volunteering in [her] classroom and coming on field
trips." Ms. Hensley testified Mother did not attend any
of the field trips that parents were allowed to attend, and
she never saw Mother at the school for anything. Ms. Hensley
further testified that Mother had emailed her one time in
late September 2015 but she could not respond due to a court
order at the time. Ms. Hensley explained that the
administration in the principal's office had informed her
that Mother had no legal right to receive information from
the school regarding the child. According to Ms. Hensley,
Mother never attended any parent-teacher conferences during
Khloe's kindergarten year.
Baker, Khloe's pre-kindergarten teacher, testified that
she was familiar with Father and Stepmother but that she only
saw Mother twice at school during the time Khloe was in her
class. Ms. Baker clarified that Mother had come with Father
through the "car rider drop off line" with Father
on two mornings toward the beginning of the year. Ms. Baker
testified that Mother had not attended any events that the
parents were allowed to attend, but Stepmother attended these
events after she became involved with Father. Ms. Baker
testified that she also taught Madison in pre-kindergarten
from August 2016 to May 2017.
testified that he and Mother were married from March 2012
until December 2014. According to Father, when Madison was
born, she had to stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit
because she was born with drugs in her system and had to be
placed on morphine to wean her off the drugs. Father
explained that Madison remained in the hospital for three
weeks before she was discharged into the care of Mother and
to Father's testimony, Mother and Father began having
problems in their marriage after Madison was born. Father
explained that he knew Mother had used drugs in the past but
was unaware she was still using them. Father testified that
Mother had gone to Woodridge several times, once or twice
before Madison was born and a couple times after Madison was
born. Father stated that Mother also attended a month program
at Willow Ridge and programs at Magnolia Ridge and Frontier
Health. Father testified that prior to Madison's birth,
he observed Mother using narcotics and that he tried to get
her help by sending her to Woodridge and Frontier Health.
Father further testified that months after Madison was born,
Mother would go stay at her uncle's home for periods of
time extending from a week through a month at a time before
testified concerning Mother's criminal activity and
presented court, probation, and jail records to the Trial
Court. The court records reflect that in April 2013, Mother
pled guilty to a charge of theft under $500 and was placed on
supervised probation. Mother was subsequently arrested in
August 2013 for aggravated assault against Father's
sister. On the basis of the aggravated assault charge, Mother
was charged with a violation of her probation stemming from
the theft charge. In October 2013, Mother pled guilty to a
violation of probation and was sentenced to time served.
Court records reflect that Mother ultimately pled guilty to
the aggravated assault charge in September 2014 and received
a sentence of three years supervised probation.
April 2014, Mother was arrested and charged with domestic
assault, but the charge was subsequently dismissed. Father
testified that a few days after the domestic assault charge,
Mother had threatened to kill herself, picked up a knife, and
put it to her wrist. Father testified that he contacted law
enforcement, and Mother was arrested at that time. He
testified that while he was not fearful that Mother was going
to harm him, he thought she was going to hurt herself. That
charge of domestic assault was dismissed.
2014, Mother was arrested and charged with driving under the
influence, failure to exercise due care, and violation of
implied consent. According to Father, Mother was arrested for
the driving under the influence charge after she wrecked a
Jeep. Father told her "[he] was done." Mother pled
guilty to driving under the influence and the other charges
testified that he filed for divorce from Mother in August
2014. He and Mother entered into an agreed permanent
parenting plan on August 28, 2014, while Mother was
incarcerated. The parenting plan allowed Mother and Father
equal parenting time. Father testified that the maternal
grandmother ("Grandmother") assisted him in filling
out the paperwork. He stated that Grandmother told him equal
custody would be the "best case scenario."
According to Father, he thought that he could believe what
Grandmother told him because "she worked for a
lawyer." The divorce between Mother and Father was
finalized on December 17, 2014.
agreed parenting plan allowed Mother and Father to have
alternating weeks of parenting time with the Children. Father
testified that although Mother and Father supposedly shared
equal parenting time, Mother never had the Children for an
entire week at a time. Mother would have the Children on the
weekends at Grandmother's home, and Father would have
them during the week. For Mother's parenting time on
weekends, Grandmother would pick up the Children from
Father's home every weekend. According to Father, Mother
usually was not with Grandmother when she picked up the
testified that he provided financially for the Children's
needs, including clothing, food, babysitting, and school
expenses, and that Mother did not provide any money to him
for the Children. Father worked third shift until about a
year prior to the September 2018 trial when he began working
on day shift. When Father worked at night during his
parenting time, Grandmother would care for the Children at
night, and Father would pick up the Children from
Grandmother's home in the morning after work. According
to Father, Mother sometimes was at Grandmother's home
when he picked up the Children, but she was not present most
of the time.
and Father had begun dating in February 2015. After Father
and Stepmother moved in together in early March 2015,
Stepmother began watching the Children at night while Father
worked. Stepmother assisted Father with taking the Children
to school. Father testified that Mother never assisted in
taking Khloe to school and never attended any school events
for which he was present.
September 2015, Father hired an attorney and filed a
"Motion to Modify Permanent Parenting Plan and for Ex
Parte Restraining Order." Father and Mother subsequently
attended mediation and agreed to a temporary parenting
schedule, which decreased Mother's visitation from equal
parenting time to weekend visitation. During this time,
Mother received visitation with the Children at
Grandmother's home each weekend except the third weekend
of the month. In April 2016, Mother's contact with the
Children was restricted to supervised visitation every other
weekend with Grandmother supervising Mother's visitation.
The Children also were to have no contact with Mother's
paramour, D.H. Father acknowledged that before Mother went to
jail, she would visit with the Children sometimes but not
every scheduled time.
records presented to the Trial Court reflect that in June
2016, Mother's probation officer, Bethany Huening, filed
an affidavit with the court alleging that Mother had violated
the rules of her probation. Specifically, the allegations in
the affidavit were that Mother had (1) admitted to the use of
buprenorphine without a prescription on two occasions, (2)
failed to complete treatment at Willow Ridge, and (3) failed
to attend intensive outpatient classes at Watauga Behavioral
Health. Mother was arrested on the violation of probation
charge on July 5, 2016. Mother remained incarcerated through
the filing of the petition until her release in March 2018.
While incarcerated in February 2017, Mother failed a drug
screen for amphetamines. She also failed a drug screen in
September 2017 for buprenorphine while incarcerated.
testified to her involvement with the Children during trial.
Stepmother stated that she moved in with Father at the
beginning of March 2015 and that they were married at the end
of that month. According to Stepmother, she assisted Khloe in
getting ready for school in the mornings, dropped Khloe off
at school, and picked her up from school in the afternoons.
She also took care of Madison during the day while Khloe was
at school and Father was sleeping.
to Stepmother, she attended a parent-teacher conference in
March 2015 with Khloe's teacher, a field trip to The
Bright's Zoo in May 2015, Honors Day, pre-K graduation
for Khloe in May 2015, and a Valentine's Day party in
2016. Stepmother and Father had participated in an egg hunt
and picnic at Khloe's school and a parent-teacher
conference in March 2015. They also had attended registration
day when Khloe began kindergarten in August 2015 and a Dr.
Seuss field trip with the school. Father, Stepmother, and
Grandmother were present for a Christmas program at school in
December 2015 and for Khloe's kindergarten graduation in
May 2016. According to Stepmother, Mother was not present at
any of these events.
testified that on Halloween in 2015, Mother was supposed to
have the Children, but Mother was not present during that
visit. Stepmother explained that Grandmother took the
Children trick-or-treating without Mother. Stepmother stated
that she does not recall Mother ever taking the Children to
school or picking them up. According to Stepmother, Mother
would be present once or twice at pickups immediately after a
visitation order was put in place but that she had not been
present most of the time. Stepmother testified that she had
only seen her "a handful of times" in the four
years she had been involved with Father and the Children.
Stepmother further testified that Mother had not paid
financial support for the Children since she had been with
explained that she had potty-trained Madison because she was
still in diapers when Stepmother became involved in helping
care for the Children. Madison also did not speak very well
when Stepmother entered the picture. Stepmother testified
that she worked with Madison to help her talk more and
understand her better. Stepmother and Father also have two
other children in the home, twin sons, who love the Children.
Stepmother expressed that she and the Children have a strong
bond and that they refer to her as "Mom."
testified during trial and requested that the Trial Court
decline to terminate her parental rights to the Children.
Mother stated that after the Children were born, she had
gotten up with them every night, fed them, clothed them, and
bathed them. Mother testified that she stayed home with the
Children while Father worked. During that time, Mother
testified that she often would accompany Father when he took
Khloe to school or would stay home with Madison if she was
to Mother, that began to change when she and Father
separated. Mother began working at Burger King, did not have
much money or a driver's license, and she had moved out
of the home. Mother testified that it was difficult to talk
to Father after they separated, especially once Stepmother
became involved. According to Mother, she was supposed to
receive equal parenting time and had tried to see the
Children, but she had difficulty communicating with Father.
to Mother, she visited with the Children between March 4,
2016 through July 4, 2016, every other weekend at
Grandmother's home. Mother explained that she lived with
Grandmother so she was present at the visits unless she had
to work. Mother testified that she did not accompany
Grandmother when she picked up and dropped off the Children
due to the tension between the parents. According to Mother,
she would see the Children while they were at
Grandmother's home. Mother testified that while she was
incarcerated, she sent two letters to Khloe and spoke with
the Children via telephone. Mother explained that the agreed
order restricting her time with the Children to only
supervised visitation on weekends was based mainly on the
individual she was dating at the time, D.H.
testified that she had not been ordered to pay child support
to Father and had financially supported the Children when
they visited her by purchasing clothing, toys, and groceries.
Mother testified that prior to her incarceration, she had a
great relationship with the Children and saw them as much as
testified that she never was notified of any school
activities so that she could attend them. When asked by the
Trial Court why she did not attend the events with
Grandmother when Grandmother was in attendance, Mother stated
that she was not aware of the events until the last minute
and that she would not attend events because of the tension
between Mother, Father, and Stepmother. Mother testified that
the main reason she did not attend Khloe's kindergarten
graduation was because of the tension between Mother, Father,
acknowledged that Madison was born drug addicted but stated
that the doctors informed her that the Prozac she was taking
"had a lot to do with it." Mother stated that she
took Lortabs for her back during her pregnancy. Mother
acknowledged failing a drug screen in 2015 but stated that
she stopped using after she failed that drug screen.
testified that she was incarcerated from July 5, 2016,
through March 27, 2018. Mother stated that she had been
arrested for violating her probation after she had failed
drug screens. Mother stated that she had taken Suboxone
"every now and then" from January to April 2016.
According to Mother, she was "trying to get off pain
pills." Mother acknowledged using Suboxone consistently
and failing three drug screens in the months leading up to
her July 2016 incarceration. Mother stated that she did not
have a prescription for the Suboxone due to her inability to
afford to go to a Suboxone ...