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In re of W.Q.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Sixth District, Texarkana

March 3, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF W.Q. AND R.Q., CHILDREN

          Submitted: February 28, 2017

         On Appeal from the 6th District Court Red River County, Texas Trial Court No. CV03759

          Before Morriss, C.J., Moseley and Burgess, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Bailey C. Moseley Justice.

         Bethany's and Wayne's long-standing abuse of drugs led to the termination of their parental rights to their two youngest children, R.Q. and W.Q.[1] In this appeal, Bethany and Wayne contend that the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the trial court's findings that termination was in the best interests of the children. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(2) (West Supp. 2016). We affirm the trial court's judgment because we find that sufficient evidence supports the trial court's finding that termination was in the best interests of the children.

         I. Standard of Review

         The United States Supreme Court has acknowledged that the right of parents to maintain custody of and raise their child "is an interest far more precious than any property right." Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 758-59 (1982). The Texas Supreme Court agrees with this assessment and has held that a parent's interest in maintaining custody of and raising its children is paramount. In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d 256, 273 (Tex. 2002); Holick v. Smith, 685 S.W.2d 18, 20 (Tex. 1985). "Because the termination of parental rights implicates fundamental interests, a higher standard of proof-clear and convincing evidence-is required at trial." In re A.B., 437 S.W.3d 498, 502 (Tex. 2014). We, therefore, "engage in an exacting review of the entire record to determine if the evidence is . . . sufficient to support the termination of parental rights." Id. at 500. Further, "involuntary termination statutes are strictly construed in favor of the parent." In re S.K.A., 236 S.W.3d 875, 900 (Tex. App.-Texarkana 2007, pet. denied) (quoting Holick, 685 S.W.2d at 20). An individual's parental rights to its child may only be terminated if the trial court finds, "by clear and convincing evidence, the existence of both of the following statutory requirements: (1) that the parent has engaged in one of the statutory grounds for termination and (2) that termination is in the child's best interest." In re C.A.J., 459 S.W.3d 175, 178 (Tex. App.-Texarkana 2015, no pet.) (citing Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001 (West 2014); In re E. N.C. , 384 S.W.3d 796, 798 (Tex. 2012); In re C.H., 89 S.W.3d 17, 23 (Tex. 2002)). "Clear and convincing evidence" is that "degree of proof that will produce in the mind of the trier of fact a firm belief or conviction as to the truth of the allegations sought to be established." Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 101.007 (West 2014); see In re J.O.A., 283 S.W.3d 336, 344 (Tex. 2009).

         In our legal sufficiency review, we consider all the evidence in the light most favorable to the findings of fact to determine whether the fact-finder reasonably could have formed a firm belief or conviction that the grounds for termination were proven. E. N.C. , 384 S.W.3d at 802-03 (citing In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d 256, 266 (Tex. 2002)); In re J.P.B., 180 S.W.3d 570, 573 (Tex. 2005) (per curiam); C.A.J., 459 S.W.3d at 178. We assume the trial court, acting as fact-finder, resolved disputed facts in favor of the finding, if a reasonable fact-finder could do so, and disregarded evidence that the fact-finder could have reasonably disbelieved or the credibility of which could be reasonably doubted. E. N.C. , 384 S.W.3d at 802-03 (citing J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d at 266); J.P.B., 180 S.W.3d at 573; C.A.J., 459 S.W.3d at 179.

         In our factual sufficiency review, due consideration is given to evidence that the trial court could have reasonably found to be clear and convincing. In re H.R.M., 209 S.W.3d 105, 109 (Tex. 2006) (per curiam). We determine "whether the evidence is such that a fact[-]finder could reasonably form a firm belief or conviction about the truth of the [ ] allegations." Id. at 108 (second alteration in original) (quoting C.H., 89 S.W.3d at 25). "If, in light of the entire record, the disputed evidence that a reasonable fact[-]finder could not have credited in favor of the finding is so significant that a fact[-]finder could not reasonably have formed a firm belief or conviction, then the evidence is factually insufficient." In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d 256, 266 (Tex. 2002). Conversely, if the evidence is such that a reasonable fact-finder could have reasonably resolved any conflicts to form a firm conviction that grounds for termination exist, then the evidence is factually sufficient, and the termination findings must be upheld. C.H., 89 S.W.3d at 18-19; C.A.J., 459 S.W.3d at 179. "[I]n making this determination, the reviewing court must undertake 'an exacting review of the entire record with a healthy regard for the constitutional interests at stake.'" A.B., 437 S.W.3d at 503 (quoting C.H., 89 S.W.3d at 26). We also recognize that the trial court, as the fact-finder, is the sole arbiter of a witness' demeanor and credibility, and it may believe all, part, or none of a witness' testimony. H.R.M., 209 S.W.3d at 109. Further, "the rights of natural parents are not absolute; protection of the child is paramount. . . . The rights of parenthood are accorded only to those fit to accept the accompanying responsibilities." In re A.V., 113 S.W.3d 355, 361 (Tex. 2003) (quoting In re J.W.T., 872 S.W.2d 189, 195 (Tex. 1994) (citation omitted)). In other words, the child's emotional and physical interests will not be sacrificed merely to preserve parental rights. C.H., 89 S.W.3d at 26.

         II. Sufficient Evidence Supports Best Interest Finding

         In their sole point of error, Bethany and Wayne challenge the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence supporting the trial court's finding that termination of their parental rights was in the best interests of the children.[2] Bethany and Wayne point to the lack of, or the scantiness of, evidence as to several of the Holley[3] factors generally used to test whether termination is in the best interests of the children and to their testimony regarding their recent efforts to reform their lifestyle and to deal with their admitted addictions to drugs, in arguing that the evidence is insufficient to support the trial court's finding concerning the best interests of the children. We agree that there is a paucity of evidence as to some of the Holley factors, and do not endorse the apparent strategy of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (Department) in this case to rely on evidence of only one or two factors to support the termination of Bethany's and Wayne's parental rights. As the Supreme Court of Texas has noted, in some cases "paltry evidence relevant to each consideration mentioned in Holley would not suffice to uphold the [fact-finder's] finding that termination is required." C.H., 89 S.W.3d at 27. Nevertheless, in other cases,

The absence of evidence about some of these considerations would not preclude a fact[-]finder from reasonably forming a strong conviction or belief that termination is in the child's best interest, particularly if the evidence were undisputed that the parental relationship endangered the safety of the child.

Id. We believe this is such a case.

         A.The Evidence ...


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