IN RE BRAXTON M. ET AL. - Articles

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Posted by: Landry Butler on Jul 5, 2017

Court: TN Court of Appeals

Attorneys 1:

Jessica C. McAfee, Greeneville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Kevin M.

Attorneys 2:

Brent Hensley, Greeneville, Tennessee, for the appellees, Donna N. and William N.

Judge(s): FRIERSON

This is a termination of parental rights case, focusing on Braxton M. and Briley N., the minor children (“the Children”) of Kevin M. (“Father”) and Heather N. (“Mother”). On March 21, 2011, the Washington County Juvenile Court (“juvenile court”) entered an order removing the Children from the parents’ custody and placing them in the physical custody of Mother’s father and stepmother, William N. and Donna N. (“Maternal Grandparents”) in response to a dependency and neglect action initiated by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) due to Briley’s drug-exposed condition at birth. In September 2011, the juvenile court entered an order maintaining physical custody of the Children with Maternal Grandparents and directing that the parents would retain the option of petitioning for return of custody at a later date. On April 15, 2015, Maternal Grandparents filed a petition in the Greene County Circuit Court (“trial court”) to terminate the parental rights of the parents and adopt the Children. Mother subsequently surrendered her parental rights to the Children and is not a party to this appeal. Following a bench trial, the trial court found that statutory grounds existed to terminate the parental rights of Father upon its finding by clear and convincing evidence that Father had abandoned the Children by willfully failing to financially support and visit them. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(1). Finding Father to be a putative father, the trial court also applied the statutory grounds provided in Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-1-113(g)(9)(A)(iv)-(v) to find clear and convincing evidence that Father had failed to manifest an ability and willingness to assume legal and physical custody of the Children and that placing the Children in Father’s legal and physical custody would pose a risk of substantial harm to their physical or psychological welfare. The court further found by clear and convincing evidence that termination of Father’s parental rights was in the Children’s best interest. Father has appealed. Having determined that the trial court erred in applying an amended version of Tennessee Code Annotated § 36- 1-113(g)(9)(A) not controlling in this action, we further determine the statutory grounds provided in subsection -113(g)(9)(A)(iv)-(v) to be inapplicable to Father under the controlling version of the statute. We affirm the trial court’s judgment in all other respects, including the termination of Father’s parental rights to the Children.