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In re M.C.L.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

November 29, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF M.C.L., K.R.L., and M.C.L., Children

         From the 225th Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2016PA01348 Honorable Richard Garcia, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Marialyn Barnard, Justice Rebeca C. Martinez, Justice Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Marialyn Barnard, Justice.

         This is an accelerated appeal from the trial court's order terminating appellant father's ("Father") parental rights to his three children.[1] On appeal, Father contends the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the trial court's finding that termination was in the children's best interests. We affirm the trial court's order of termination.

         Background

         The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services ("the Department") became involved with the family based on allegations of drug abuse, domestic violence, neglectful supervision, and physical neglect. The Department placed John with his maternal grandparents and the two younger boys with their maternal aunt and uncle. The Department subsequently filed a petition to terminate Mother and Father's parental rights.[2] During the case, the Department created a service plan for Father, which required, among other things, that he: (1) engage in and complete services relating to domestic violence, substance abuse, and parenting; (2) obtain a psychiatric and psychological assessment; and (3) maintain stable employment and housing. The trial court ordered Father to comply with each requirement set out in the plan. The court held the statutorily required status and permanency hearings, and ultimately, the matter moved to a final hearing, during which the Department sought to terminate Father's parental rights.

         At the hearing, the trial court heard testimony from Jennifer DeLong, the only Department caseworker involved in the case, and C.B., the children's maternal aunt. At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court terminated Father's rights, finding he constructively abandoned the children and failed to comply with the provisions of a court order that specifically established the actions necessary for him to obtain the return of his children.[3] See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(1)(N), (O) (West Supp. 2016). The trial court further found termination of Father's parental rights would be in the children's best interests. See id. § 161.001(b)(2). Accordingly, the trial court rendered an order terminating Father's parental rights. Thereafter, he perfected this appeal.

         Analysis

         On appeal, Father 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)(N), (O). Rather, he merely challenges the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence in support of the trial court's finding that termination was in the best interests of the children. See id. § 161.001(b)(2).

         Standard of Review

         A parent's right to his 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 his child. Id. § 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 his 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). In sum, an appellate court must determine whether the evidence is such that the trier of fact could reasonably form a firm belief or conviction that determination was in the child's best interest. In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d 256, 263 (Tex. 2002).

         In conducting a sufficiency review, we may not weigh a witness's credibility because it depends on appearance and demeanor, and these are within the domain of the trier of fact. J.P.B., 180 S.W.3d at 573. Even when such issues are found in the appellate record, we must defer to the fact finder's reasonable resolutions. Id.

         Best Interests - Substantive Law

         In a best interest analysis, we apply the non-exhaustive Holley factors. See Holley v. Adams, 544 S.W.2d 367, 371-72 (Tex. 1976). We recognize 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. ยง 263.307(a). Thus, to determine whether a child's parent is ...


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