In Re the Marriage of: Christopher M. Theodore, petitioner, Respondent, vs. Destani J. Baber, Appellant.
This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Matter of the
Welfare of: M.J.A., Child.
Filed December 12, 2000
Rice County District Court
File No. J29950832
Stephen R. Ecker, 302 N.W. 1st Avenue, Faribault, MN 55021 (for appellant mother)
Paul Beaumaster, Rice County Attorney, Meredith A. Erickson, Assistant County Attorney, Rice County Courthouse, 218 N.W. 3rd Street, Faribault, MN 55021 (for respondent)
James R. Martin, 607 North Central Avenue, Faribault, MN 55021 (for respondent father)
John L. Fossum, 18 Bridge Square, P.O. Box 840, Northfield, MN 55057 (for child)
Kathleen Glewwe, P.O. Box 831, South St. Paul, MN 55075 (guardian ad litem)
Considered and decided by Harten, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Anderson, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
The mother of M.J.A. appeals the trial court's termination of her parental rights, claiming that the evidence is insufficient to support the court's determination that she failed to correct the conditions leading to an out-of-home placement, despite reasonable efforts by Rice County Social Services to rehabilitate the family, and that M.J.A. was "neglected and in foster care." Appellant also alleges that termination of her parental rights is not in M.J.A's best interests. Because we conclude that (1) evidence supports the finding that appellant failed to correct the conditions leading to out-of-home placement of M.J.A.; (2) M.J.A. was neglected and in foster care; and (3) M.J.A.'s best interests support termination of parental rights, we affirm.D E C I S I O N
"Parental rights are terminated only for grave and weighty reasons." In re Welfare of M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d 370, 375 (Minn. 1990) (citation omitted). On appeal of a termination of parental rights, the appellate court "will not overturn the trial court's findings of fact unless those findings are clearly erroneous." In re Welfare of A.D., 535 N.W.2d 643, 648 (Minn. 1995) (citations omitted). "Considerable deference is due to the [trial] court's decision because a [trial] court is in a superior position to assess the credibility of the witnesses." In re Welfare of L.A.F., 554 N.W.2d 393, 396 (Minn. 1996) (citation omitted).
To terminate parental rights, a trial court need only find that one statutory condition exists. Minn. Stat. § 260C.301 subd. 1(b) (Supp. 1999). The child's best interests must always be the primary consideration, however. M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d at 375. Here, the trial court found two statutory bases to support termination of parental rights: (1) failure to correct conditions leading to the initial CHIPS determination; and (2) M.J.A. was a child "neglected and in foster care." Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5) & (8) (Supp. 1999).
The court may terminate parental rights when, despite reasonable efforts by social services to reunite the child and parent, the parent has not corrected the conditions leading to the child's out-of-home placement. Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5). Conditions that led to M.J.A.'s placement included appellant's explosive anger disorder, which resulted in a violent assault on M.J.A.'s father while M.J.A. was held in his father's arms, and chemical abuse by both parents. To correct these conditions, the court ordered appellant to: (1) attend individual therapy; (2) complete a psychological evaluation; (3) complete a chemical dependency assessment and follow resulting recommendations; (4) remain chemically free, maintain a violence free home, and submit to random urinalysis; (5) participate in family therapy; and (6) complete an anger management evaluation.
A social service agency must make reasonable efforts to rehabilitate and reunite a family by making certain resources available. Here, social services provided (1) individual therapy; (2) a psychological evaluation; (3) a chemical dependency assessment; (4) an appointment for chemical dependency treatment; (5) random urinalysis testing; (6) transportation for visitation; and (7) attempts to arrange an anger management evaluation and parenting assessment. These were reasonable efforts to provide appellant with the help she needed.
Although appellant began some of the activities the court required, she finished none. Appellant failed to complete or even make substantial progress on any of the requirements of the court order. Appellant attended some individual therapy, but that was terminated because her continued abuse of chemical substances impeded her progress in therapy. Appellant submitted to a psychological evaluation, but did not follow through on any of the recommendations. Appellant submitted to a chemical dependency assessment, but later admitted she lied in the assessment and failed to appear for scheduled treatment. Appellant submitted to random urinalysis and tested positive for marijuana each time. Instances of domestic abuse continued in appellant's home following the court order until appellant and M.J.A.'s father separated. Most critically, perhaps, appellant failed to complete an anger management assessment to address her explosive anger disorder.
We conclude there is sufficient evidence to support the termination of appellant's parental rights for failure to correct the conditions leading to M.J.A.'s out-of-home placement. See In re Welfare of J.S., 470 N.W.2d 697, 703 (Minn. App. 1991) (where social services provided individual therapy, parent education classes, and foster care services, but parents failed to meet goals outlined in placement plan, conditions leading to placement were not corrected), review denied (Minn. July 24, 1991); In re Welfare of M.G., 407 N.W.2d 118, 121-22 (Minn. App. 1987) (where parent understood requirements but failed to comply, parent's meager attempts at compliance do not rise to reasonable efforts to correct conditions leading to placement).
The trial court also found that M.J.A. was "neglected and in foster care." Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(8). A child who is neglected and in foster care is one whose parents' circumstances have not changed so that the child can be returned to them and whose parents, despite the availability of needed services, failed to make reasonable efforts to adjust their conditions or conduct. Minn. Stat. § 260C.007, subd. 18 (Supp. 1999). For termination of parental rights to be proper, it must appear that the conditions of neglect will continue for a prolonged, indeterminate period. In re Welfare of Chosa, 290 N.W.2d 766, 769 (Minn. 1980). Past performance may establish that the conditions will exist for a prolonged and indeterminate time. See In re Welfare of H.K., 455 N.W.2d 529, 533 (Minn. App. 1990) (parent's unwillingness to comply with court order indicates conditions would not change for prolonged and indeterminate time), review denied (Minn. July 6, 1990).
As discussed above, there is sufficient evidence to support the trial court's conclusion that, despite a reasonable effort on behalf of social services to provide assistance, appellant failed to make a reasonable effort to address her explosive anger disorder or discontinue drug use. See A.D., 535 N.W.2d at 649 (where mother repeatedly refused services, attended visitation only sporadically, and exhibited volatile and aggressive manner in child's presence, evidence supported termination); J.S., 470 N.W.2d at 704 (where parents failed to complete rehabilitative services offered, reasonable to conclude parents made no reasonable efforts). Thus, M.J.A. qualifies under the statute as a child neglected and in foster care.
Finally, the trial court's findings on the best interests of the child support termination of parental rights. Appellant failed to address her anger problem and to remain chemically free. M.J.A.'s father testified that he believed neither he nor appellant could provide a safe and stable environment and that termination of parental rights was in M.J.A.'s best interests. The guardian ad litem testified that it was unlikely appellant would be able to provide adequate care for M.J.A. in the foreseeable future. Both the guardian ad litem and a social services worker testified that M.J.A.'s best interests are served by adoption into a stable home environment. This evidence is sufficient to support the trial court's finding that termination of parental rights was in the child's best interests.