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In re Termination of Parental Rights to L.A.

September 2, 2009

IN THE MATTER OF THE TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS TO L.A., A MINOR CHILD:
R.L.A. APPELLANT (RESPONDENT),
v.
THE STATE OF WYOMING, DEPARTMENT OF FAMILY SERVICES, APPELLEE (PETITIONER).



Appeal from the District Court of Sweetwater County, The Honorable Nena R. James, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kite, Justice.

Before VOIGT, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, KITE, and BURKE, JJ.

[¶1] RLA (Father) appeals from the district court‟s order terminating his parental rights to his son, LA (Child), pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-2-309(a)(iv) (LexisNexis 2009) because he was incarcerated on a felony conviction and was unfit to have custody and control of Child. Father claims the Department of Family Services (DFS) did not present sufficient evidence to establish he was unfit.

[¶2] We affirm.

ISSUE

[¶3]The dispositive issue in this case is whether the district court properly concluded DFS presented clear and convincing evidence that Father was unfit to have care and custody of Child.

FACTS

[¶4]Child was born November 25, 2006, to KW (Mother) and Father. Because Child tested positive for methamphetamine at birth, DFS took him into protective custody. The parents lived together and DFS determined it would not be appropriate to place Child with Father because of the presence of methamphetamine in the household. Mother subsequently relinquished her parental rights to Child.

[¶5] DFS prepared a case plan, dated January 19, 2007, which listed the permanency goal as family reunification and required Father to provide a copy of his drug and alcohol evaluation and comply with its recommendations; complete a parenting class; and attend regular visitation with the Child after having clean urinalyses (UAs). Father did well on the plan for the first few weeks, completing a parenting class and regularly attending visitation after submitting clean UAs. However, in February 2007, Father admitted to using methamphetamine and "flushing," i.e., consuming large amounts of liquid to obtain clean UAs. Because at the time of his admission Father was on probation for a prior burglary, he was incarcerated for thirty days.

[¶6] After completing his jail term, Father entered an inpatient treatment program to address his drug problems. However, he left the program without permission less than twenty-four hours later. A warrant was issued for Father‟s arrest and, although DFS regularly contacted him on a cell phone over the next few months to set up visitation with Child, he declined because he did not want to risk being arrested.

[¶7] On July 20, 2007, Father led law enforcement officers on a high speed chase; he was eventually apprehended in Colorado after almost running over the officers. The officers found syringes that tested presumptively positive for methamphetamine in the vehicle he was driving. DFS contacted Father while he was incarcerated in Colorado, but he did not inquire about Child‟s well-being. While awaiting completion of his criminal proceedings, Father offered to relinquish his parental rights to Child in return for lenient treatment on his criminal charges.

[¶8] DFS filed a petition to terminate Father‟s parental rights on January 9, 2008. The petition included two bases for termination of parental rights under § 14-2-309(a): 1) Father was incarcerated on a felony conviction and was unfit to have care and custody of Child under subsection (iv); and 2) Child had been in foster care for fifteen of the most recent twenty-two months and Father was unfit under subsection (v). Despite having filed the termination petition, DFS developed a case plan with Father in March 2008, which listed family reunification as a concurrent plan. Father agreed to the provisions of the plan pertaining to visitation with Child. He did not, however, agree with other provisions of the plan which required him to maintain contact with Child by writing him letters three times per week and researching and writing multiple monthly reports about child development, discipline and attachment disorder issues. In a letter, he indicated that he was willing to write Child once per week and submit one child development report per month.

[¶9] DFS transported Child to the penitentiary for visitation with Father in March 2008. At that time, Father had not had any contact with Child, who was approximately sixteen months old, for almost eleven months. According to the DFS case worker who supervised the visit, it was awkward, with Father spending most of his time conversing with his own mother and the caseworker rather than interacting with Child. Moreover, when Child started fussing, Father‟s mother asked him if he would hold Child. Father replied, "No, he is just a brat. He has been spoiled like that since he has been born. He just wants to be held."

[¶10] At the next visitation, Father interacted a little with Child, but he spent most of the visit talking to his father and stepmother who also attended the visitation. According to the caseworker who supervised the visit, Father showed no emotional attachment to Child. The May 2008 visit had to be canceled because Child was hospitalized. When the caseworker called to inform Father of the cancellation, he asked when the termination hearing was scheduled to be held but did not inquire about Child‟s health. The next visit in ...


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