Juvenile Law

Editor:
Shawn R. McCarver, Esquire

Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) for neglect and adoption without consent is affirmed where Mother failed to provide for child from birth, had no contact for years and showed no intent to continue the parent-child relationship. TPR is in the best interests of child as there was no emotional bond, no contact for years, only token support after remand, Mother never sought services from the state, Mother was disinterested in child and where Mother is a felon subject to deportation. Adoption of C.M., No. 32228 (Mo. App. S.D., October 7, 2013).

Mother, an illegal immigrant, became pregnant with child. Prenatal care was inconsistent. Mother was arrested when immigration authorities raided her place of employment. The child was first placed with Mother’s brother and sister, and then with a second couple. Mother had very little contact with the child thereafter. While incarcerated, Mother did not give her proper name, making communication with her difficult. When the child was with Mother and her relatives, the child was not receiving proper nutrition and was somewhat developmentally delayed. Adoptive parents were contacted by a family member and agreed to meet with the child and the couple with whom the child was then residing. Adoptive parents began providing for the child in October 2007 and they continued to do so through the date of the trial.

Mother was served with an adoption petition which also requested TPR under Chapter 211. The adoption was granted in October 2008. Mother requested visitation with her child in July 2010 during the appeal. In February 2011, the Supreme Court ordered a new trial on all issues after the first appeal had run its course.

After retrial, the trial court found that Mother had abandoned (Chapters 211 and 453) and neglected (Chapters 211 and 453) the child beginning when the child was an infant. The trial court also found that Mother was an unfit parent under Chapter 211, and that her ability to parent had worsened after 2007. Expert testimony showed that reunification could take years and might not ever occur. The trial court found that there is a risk of future harm to the child if Mother were to regain custody because Mother plans to reenter the U.S. She admitted that such could cause harm or even death to Mother and that she would be at risk of arrest, prosecution or prison as well as deportation if she were again apprehended in the U.S. Such would result in her child either being deported or placed into foster care.

On best interests, the trial court found no emotional bond, no physical contact since May 2007, no child support until 2011, and support thereafter was token, that Mother never sought services from the state, that she was disinterested in the child, and that she is a convicted felon subject to deportation. The court also found that Mother had abandoned the child after birth and persisted in criminal behavior. The court found that adoptive parents were willing to adopt and would provide excellent and consistent care for the child. The count for termination of parental rights was granted and Mother appealed.

Mother’s actions showed no intent to continue the parent-child relationship. Therefore, neglect under § 211.447.5(2), RSMo. is supported by substantial evidence. Further, Mother’s consent to the adoption was unnecessary under § 453.040(7), RSMo. Termination was also in the best interests of the child.

Mother’s claim that the trial court did not properly weigh “substantial evidence in opposition” to the judgment is rejected. Mother’s claim that the three-month delay between the trial and the rendering by the court of its 61-page judgment shows that the evidence did not “instantly tilt the scales,” as is required for proof by clear, cogent and convincing evidence, is likewise rejected. Mother’s claim that the juvenile officer should have done more for her is rejected because the juvenile officer fully participated in the proceedings and complied with statutory duties. Mother’s claim that she did not have counsel for ten months is rejected because the summons served upon her notified her that she had the right to request appointment of counsel. Mother failed to do so. With respect to Mother’s claim that the placement procedures of Chapter 453 were not followed, Mother failed to preserve the issue. Plain error review revealed that Mother failed to prove manifest injustice.

Held:
Termination affirmed.