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In re A.S.A.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

April 24, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF A.S.A. and A.S.A., Minor Children

          From the 25th Judicial District Court, Guadalupe County, Texas Trial Court No. 17-1794-CV-C Honorable Thomas Nathaniel Stuckey, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice Liza A. Rodriguez, Justice

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice.

         Dad appeals the trial court's order terminating his parental rights to his children A.S.A. and A.S.A.[1] Dad asserts the trial court could not have found by clear and convincing evidence that terminating his parental rights is in the children's best interests. We affirm the trial court's order.

         Background

         On August 8, 2017, the Department conducted an unannounced home visit based on a report of negligent supervision. The report indicated Mom was using cocaine at a friend's home, and Mom left her younger child with a person who was also using cocaine.[2] Mom's oral swab tested positive for cocaine and marijuana. The Department petitioned for conservatorship; the trial court appointed it as the children's temporary managing conservator and ordered Dad to complete a service plan.[3] After a one-day bench trial, the trial court found by clear and convincing evidence that Dad's course of conduct met Family Code section 161.001(b)(1)'s grounds (D), (E), and (O), and terminating Dad's parental rights was in the best interests of the children. Dad appeals.

         Evidence Required, Standards of Review

         The evidentiary standardsi the Department must meet and the statutory groundsii the trial court must find to terminate a parent's rights to a child are well known, as are the legaliii and factualiv sufficiency standards of review. We apply them here.

         Bases for Terminating Dad's Parental Rights

         A. Dad's Course of Parental Conduct

         Dad does not challenge the trial court's findings that Dad's course of conduct met statutory grounds (D), (E), and (O). See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(1)(D), (E), (O).

         B. Best Interests of the Children

         Dad challenges the sufficiency of the evidence for the trial court's finding that terminating his parental rights is in his children's best interests. See id. § 161.001(b)(2). The Family Code statutory factorsv and the Holley factorsvi for best interests of the children are well known. Applying each standard of review and the applicable statutory and common law factors, we examine the evidence pertaining to the best interests of the children.

         C. Witnesses at Trial

         In a one-day bench trial, the trial court heard testimony from Alexis Villanueva and Sonya Riley, the Department case workers; Dr. Jacob Pickard, a clinical psychologist; Rosemary Coates, a licensed professional counselor; the foster mom; and Appellant. The trial court also heard from the children's attorney ad litem. The trial court was the "sole judge[] of the credibility of the witnesses and the weight to give their testimony." See City of Keller v. Wilson, 168 S.W.3d 802, 819 (Tex. 2005); cf. In re H.R.M., 209 S.W.3d 105, 108 (Tex. 2006) (per curiam).

         D. Evidence of Best Interests of the Children

         The trial court heard the following testimony.

         The psychologist noted that when Dad answered his questions, he was manipulative and dishonest. He gave misleading or incomplete answers, particularly about the degree of domestic violence he committed, the frequency and amount of alcohol he drank, and the nature of his relationship with Mom. Dad tried to coerce Mom to lie. Dad and Mom have a troubled relationship: Dad abuses alcohol and commits domestic violence; Mom uses illegal drugs and neglects the children. Others testified that since 2012, Mom and Dad's conduct prompted at least four Department investigations.

         Dad becomes angry and violent when he drinks, and his prolonged history of alcohol abuse has led to criminal offenses. Dad's criminal history over the ten years before trial included three previous convictions for assault causing bodily injury-two with a family violence finding.

         Throughout the plan period, Dad consistently refused to take personal responsibility for his conduct that adversely affected the children. At trial, Dad expressed some degree of responsibility for his actions, but the psychologist and the case workers testified otherwise. Dad also failed to provide a home environment that would be safe and secure for the children.

         E. Dad's ...


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