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In re J.A.T.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

November 1, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF J.A.T., a Child

         From the 57th Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2016-PA-01687 Honorable Richard Garcia, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Marialyn Barnard, Justice Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice Irene Rios, Justice

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          MARIALYN BARNARD, JUSTICE

         This is an accelerated appeal from the trial court's order terminating appellant mother's ("Mother") parental rights to her child, J.A.T. In her sole issue on appeal, Mother challenges the sufficiency of the evidence in support of the trial court's finding that termination was in J.A.T.'s best interest. We affirm the trial court's order of termination.

         Background

         The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services ("the Department") removed nine-year-old J.A.T. from Mother's custody after concerns regarding Mother's multiple suicide attempts and repeated arrests regarding assaultive conduct. The Department placed J.A.T. with his maternal grandmother and subsequently filed a petition, seeking to become the temporary managing conservator of J.A.T. and to terminate Mother's and J.A.T.'s father's parental rights.[1]During the case, the Department created a service plan for Mother, which required, among other things, that she seek domestic violence therapy, obtain a psychiatric assessment, attend parenting classes, and maintain stable employment and housing. The trial court ordered Mother to comply with each requirement set out in the plan. The record reflects Mother completed only the psychiatric assessment requirement of her service plan. The court held the statutorily required status and permanency hearings, and ultimately, because Mother failed to complete her service plan, the matter moved to a final hearing, during which the Department sought to terminate Mother's parental rights.

         At the hearing, the trial court heard testimony from the following three individuals: (1) Jennifer DeLong, the Department caseworker involved in the case; (2) Mother; and (3) Cecilia Hellrung, the guardian ad litem appointed to represent Mother's best interest during the course of the case. After hearing the testimony and taking the case under advisement, the trial court ordered Mother's parental rights be terminated. Specifically, the trial court found Mother failed to comply with the provisions of a court order that specifically established the actions necessary for her to obtain the return of J.A.T. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(1)(O) (West Supp. 2015). The trial court further found termination of Mother's parental rights would be in J.A.T.'s best interest. See id. § 161.001(b)(2). Accordingly, the trial court rendered an order terminating Mother's parental rights. Thereafter, Mother perfected this appeal.

         Analysis

         On appeal, Mother does not challenge the evidence with regard to the trial court's findings under section 161.001(b)(1) of the Texas Family Code ("the Code"). See id. § 161.001(b)(1)(O). Rather, Mother challenges the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence in support of the trial court's finding that termination was in the best interest of her child. See id. § 161.001(b)(2).

         Standard of Review

         A parent's right to her child may be terminated by a court only if the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the parent committed an act prohibited by section 161.001(b)(1) of the Code and termination is in the best interest of her child. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b). "Clear and convincing evidence" is defined as "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." Id. § 101.007. Courts require this heightened standard of review because termination of a parent's rights to her child results in permanent and severe changes for both the parent and child, thus, implicating due process concerns. In re A.B., 437 S.W.3d 498, 502 (Tex. 2015). When reviewing the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence, we apply the well-established standards of review. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. §§ 101.007, 161.206(a); In re J.P.B., 180 S.W.3d 570, 573 (Tex. 2005) (legal sufficiency); In re H.R.M., 209 S.W.3d 105, 108 (Tex. 2006) (factual sufficiency).

         Best Interests - Substantive Law

         There is a strong presumption that keeping a child with a parent is in the child's best interest. In re R.R., 209 S.W.3d 112, 116 (Tex. 2006). However, promptly and permanently placing a child in a safe environment is also presumed to be in the child's best interest. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 263.307(a). Thus, to determine whether a child's parent is willing and able to provide the child with a safe environment, we consider the factors set forth in section 263.307(b) of the Texas Family Code. Id.

         In addition to these statutory factors, we apply the non-exhaustive Holley factors to our analysis. See Holley v. Adams, 544 S.W.2d 367, 371-72 (Tex. 1976). Evidence of each Holley factor is not required before a court may find that termination is in a child's best interest. In re C.H., 89 S.W.3d 17, 27 (Tex. 2002). The absence of evidence as to some of the Holley factors does not preclude a trier of fact from reasonably forming a strong conviction or belief that termination is in a child's best interest. Id. Moreover, in conducting our review of a trial court's best interest determination, we focus on ...


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