Juvenile Law

Editor:
Shawn R. McCarver, Esquire


Termination of father's parental rights (TPR) for parental unfitness is affirmed despite the fact that father sent numerous cards and letters, spoke with the child by telephone, completed every program available to him in prison and performed all tasks requested of him by the Children's Division. Father has been incarcerated the majority of his adult life; child has had no physical contact with father; child does not know father and is closely bonded to her foster parents, where she has lived all of her life. Creation of a bond has not occurred despite father's efforts and would likely take too long and is therefore inconsistent with timely permanency. The doctrine of "law of the case" does not prevent TPR in this case, but merely prevents the trial court from presuming parental unfitness due to father's incarceration as directed in a previous appeal in this case. In Interest of Z.L.R., No. 30881 (Mo. App. S.D., July 15, 2011), Lynch, J.

The child was conceived during a few months when father was out of prison, but was born after father was back in prison, where father has remained during the entirety of the child's life. A previous termination of parental rights was reversed because the trial court presumed father unfit due to incarceration. Father's parental rights were terminated on remand for failure to rectify and for parental unfitness.

Father complied with everything requested of him by the Children's Division. Father completed every program available to him while in prison. Father talked to the child on the phone and made frequent calls to the caseworker. The child did not know father and called her foster parents "mom" and "dad."  Father did not inform the caseworker of his plans for housing or employment upon release. The caseworker said father had not shown the ability to maintain suitable independent housing or to provide emotional or financial support for the child. Despite income of over $80 per month, father paid no support, admitted he had trouble keeping jobs and did not have a house or job lined up upon his future release from prison. Father planned to live with his mother upon release.

The trial court did not find father presumptively unfit as it had done on the trial before the remand. The "law of the case" is not that father's rights may not be terminated on remand, but that the court may not presume father unfit due to his incarceration. Despite father's efforts, a bond was not established and the process would likely take too long, which is inconsistent with timely permanency.

Termination is in the child's best interests because there are no emotional ties between father and child, there was no visitation, no support and no indication that reunification could occur within an ascertainable time, even with additional services. Termination affirmed.



The Missouri Bar Courts Bulletin, 11-Aug

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