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In re A.C.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Tenth District

July 12, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF A.C. AND S.C., CHILDREN

         From the 21st District Court Burleson County, Texas Trial Court No. 28, 210.

          Before Chief Justice Gray, Justice Davis, and Justice Scoggins

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TOM GRAY Chief Justice

         David C. appeals from a judgment that terminated his parental rights to his children, A.C. and S.C. After a bench trial, the trial court found that David had constructively abandoned the children, failed to complete his service plan, and that termination of his parental rights was in the best interest of the children.[1] See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(1) & (2) (West 2014). David complains that the evidence was legally and factually insufficient for the trial court to have found that he constructively abandoned the children, that the children were removed for abuse or neglect by him as required for a finding that he failed to complete his service plan, and that termination was in the best interest of the children. Because we find that the evidence was legally and factually sufficient, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         Standard of Review

         The natural right existing between parents and their children is of constitutional dimensions. Holick v. Smith, 685 S.W.2d 18, 20 (Tex. 1985); see Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 758-59, 102 S.Ct. 1388, 71 L.Ed.2d 599 (1982). However, parental rights are not absolute, and the emotional and physical interests of a child must not be sacrificed merely to preserve those rights. In re C.H., 89 S.W.3d 17, 26 (Tex. 2002).

         The Family Code permits a court to terminate the parent-child relationship if the petitioner establishes (1) one or more of the statutorily-enumerated acts or omissions and (2) that termination of the parent-child relationship is in the best interest of the children. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001 (West 2014). Though evidence may be relevant to both elements, each element must be proved, and proof of one does not relieve the burden of proving the other. See In re C.H., 89 S.W.3d at 28. While both a statutory ground and best interest of the children must be proved, only one statutory ground is required to terminate parental rights under Section 161.001. In re A.V., 113 S.W.3d 355, 362 (Tex. 2003). Therefore, we will affirm the trial court's order of termination if legally and factually sufficient evidence supports any one of the grounds found in the termination order, provided the record shows also that it was in the best interest of the children for the parent's rights to be terminated. See id.

         Due process requires the application of the clear and convincing standard of proof in cases involving involuntary termination of parental rights. In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d 256, 263 (Tex. 2002); see Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.206(a) (West 2014). "Clear and convincing evidence means the measure or 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. This standard, which focuses on whether a reasonable jury could form a firm belief or conviction, retains the deference a reviewing court must have for the factfinder's role. In re C.H., 89 S.W.3d at 26. We must maintain appropriate deference to the jury's role as factfinder by assuming that it resolved conflicts in the evidence in favor of its finding when reasonable to do so and by disregarding evidence that it reasonably could have disbelieved. See In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d at 266.

         In reviewing the legal sufficiency of the evidence supporting an order terminating parental rights, we look at all the evidence in the light most favorable to the finding to determine whether a reasonable trier of fact could have formed a firm belief or conviction as to the truth of the allegations sought to be established. In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d at 266. "To give appropriate deference to the factfinder's conclusions and the role of a court conducting a legal sufficiency review, looking at the evidence in the light most favorable to the judgment means that a reviewing court must assume that the factfinder resolved disputed facts in favor of its finding if a reasonable factfinder could do so." Id. In other words, we will disregard all evidence that a reasonable factfinder could have disbelieved or found to have been incredible. Id.

         When reviewing the factual sufficiency of the evidence supporting a termination order, we determine "whether the evidence is such that a factfinder could reasonably form a firm belief or conviction about the truth of the [Department]'s allegations." In re C.H., 89 S.W.3d at 25. In conducting this review, we consider whether the disputed evidence is such that a reasonable factfinder could not have resolved the disputed evidence in favor of its finding. In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d at 266. "If, in light of the entire record, the disputed evidence that a reasonable factfinder could not have credited in favor of the finding is so significant that a factfinder could not reasonably have formed a firm belief or conviction, then the evidence is factually insufficient." Id.

         Constructive Abandonment

         In his first issue, David complains that the evidence was legally and factually insufficient for the trial court to have found that he constructively abandoned the children pursuant to Section 161.001(b)(1)(N) of the Family Code. Section 161.001(b)(1)(N) permits termination on clear and convincing evidence in part that the parent committed the following act or omission:

(N) constructively abandoned the child who has been in the permanent or temporary managing conservatorship of the Department of Family and Protective Services or an authorized agency for not less than six months, and: (i) the department or authorized agency has made reasonable efforts to return the child to the parent; (ii) the parent has not regularly visited or maintained significant contact with the child; and (iii) the parent has demonstrated an inability to provide the child with a safe environment.

Tex. Fam. Code Ann. ยง 161.001(b)(1)(N). It is undisputed that the children were in the temporary managing conservatorship of the Department for more than six months. Rather, David argues that the Department failed to meet ...


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