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In re A.J.A.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

November 22, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF A.J.A., A.-J.A., and J.J.A., Children

         From the 57th Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2016-PA-01617 Honorable Richard Garcia, Associate Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Karen Angelini, Justice, Marialyn Barnard, Justice, Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice

         Jesse[1] appeals the trial court's termination of his parental rights to A.J.A. (born in 2010), A.-J.A. (born in 2012), and J.J.A. (born in 2014). In his sole issue, Jesse argues insufficient evidence supports the trial court's finding that termination of his parental rights is in the children's best interest. We affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Background

         In 2016, Jesse and the children's mother, Sara, were fighting outside of their house; Jesse was wielding a knife. The police arrested both Jesse and Sara that evening, and the Department of Family and Protective Services received a referral of neglectful supervision regarding the children. The Department opened a family-based case, and sent a caseworker to the house, apparently after Jesse was released from police custody. It took over fifteen minutes for Jesse to come to the door, and J.J.A. was standing in the window without a diaper and appeared to be covered in dirt. Jesse and Sara were drug tested; Sara tested positive for marijuana, and Jesse tested positive for methamphetamines, amphetamines, and marijuana.

         The Department removed the children, who were placed with foster parents, and filed suit for conservatorship and to terminate Jesse's and Sara's parental rights. Both Jesse and Sara signed irrevocable affidavits of voluntary relinquishment of parental rights. The case proceeded to a bench trial at which Sara, Jesse, Department caseworker Kyle Buckley, and the children's therapist Yadira Puente testified. Sara and Jesse were both incarcerated at the time of trial. The trial court signed a final judgment terminating both Jesse's and Sara's parental rights. Only Jesse filed a notice of appeal.

         Standard of Review

         To terminate parental rights, a trial court must find at least one of the statutory grounds for termination and that termination of parental rights is in the child's best interest. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b) (West Supp. 2017). A judgment terminating parental rights must be supported by clear and convincing evidence. Id. To determine whether this heightened burden of proof was met, we employ a heightened standard of review to determine whether a "factfinder could reasonably form a firm belief or conviction about the truth of the State's allegations." In re C.H., 89 S.W.3d 17, 25 (Tex. 2002). "This standard guards the constitutional interests implicated by termination, while retaining the deference an appellate court must have for the factfinder's role." In re O.N.H., 401 S.W.3d 681, 683 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2013, no pet.). We do not reweigh issues of witness credibility but defer to the factfinder's reasonable credibility determinations. In re J.P.B., 180 S.W.3d 570, 573 (Tex. 2005).

         A legal sufficiency review under the heightened standard of review requires us to examine 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 that its finding was true." In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d 256, 266 (Tex. 2002). We assume the factfinder resolved disputed facts in favor of its finding if a reasonable factfinder could have done so, and we disregard all evidence that a reasonable factfinder could have disbelieved or found incredible. Id. When conducting a factual sufficiency review, we evaluate "whether disputed evidence is such that a reasonable factfinder could not have resolved that disputed evidence in favor of its finding." Id. The evidence is factually insufficient "[i]f, 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." Id.

         The Best-Interest Finding

         Although the trial court found statutory grounds for terminating Jesse's parental rights, specifically that he executed an affidavit of voluntary relinquishment and failed to comply with court-ordered provisions of his family service plan, Jesse does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence to support those findings. Jesse argues only there is legally and factually insufficient evidence to support the trial court's finding that termination of his parental rights is in the children's best interest. The best-interest determination is a wide-ranging inquiry, and factors relevant to that determination include:

• the desires of the child;
• the emotional and physical needs of the child now and ...

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