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In re Termination of Parental Rights to WDW

January 28, 2010

IN THE MATTER OF THE TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS TO WDW, A MINOR CHILD:
JLW, APPELLANT (RESPONDENT),
v.
CAB, APPELLEE (PETITIONER).



Appeal from the District Court of Carbon County The Honorable Wade E. Waldrip, Judge.

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

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

[¶1] JLW (Father) appeals the district court's order terminating his parental rights pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-2-309(a)(iv). He claims the district court failed to satisfy the social study requirements detailed in Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-2-314. He also contends there was insufficient evidence to support the district court's finding that he was an unfit parent. We affirm.

ISSUES

[¶2] Father presents the following issues:

1. Whether the District Court erroneously exercised its discretion in terminating the parental rights of [Father] after:

a. Failing to direct that a social study should be made upon the filing of the petition for termination as required by Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-2-314 and rendering a judgment in favor of termination without having reviewed the completed home study.

b. Ordering a home study for the purpose of the possible adoption of WDW by his step-father rather than for the purpose of determining whether termination would be appropriate.

2. Whether the District Court erred in finding that [Mother] established that [Father] was unfit to have custody and control of the minor child, WDW, for the purposes of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-2-309(a)(iv), because:

a. [Mother] failed to carry the evidentiary burden of proving [Father] was unfit to have custody and control by clear and convincing evidence.

FACTS

[¶3] Father and CAB (Mother) are the parents of WDW who was born in May 1999. Mother filed for divorce shortly after the birth and a default divorce decree was entered in October 1999. Mother was awarded sole custody of WDW. Father was ordered to pay $300 per month in child support. The divorce decree did not provide Father with any visitation rights. It did, however, specifically provide that Father could petition for visitation rights in the future.

[¶4] Mother married CB in June 2005. CB wants to adopt WDW and, as an initial step in the adoption process, Mother sought to obtain Father's consent to the adoption. Father refused to give consent. Mother then filed a petition to terminate Father's parental rights. Father contested the petition. The district court appointed a Guardian ad Litem for WDW and a bench trial was held in September 2008.

[¶5] At the beginning of trial, Father's attorney advised the court that the social study mandated by Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-2-314 had not been ordered. Father's counsel did not seek a continuance. Instead, she suggested that the district court order the social study after trial if the court felt that it was necessary. The court accepted the suggestion and trial proceeded as scheduled.

[¶6] The evidence presented at trial established that Father was in jail at the time of WDW's birth and had been incarcerated on numerous occasions since that time. At the time of trial, Father was serving a five to seven year sentence for aggravated burglary, a felony. He began serving the sentence in 2006. Father has two other felony convictions and additional felony charges are currently pending in Utah. Father has struggled with drug and alcohol abuse when not in prison. Father never voluntarily paid child support. Support payments were garnished from his wages during those periods of time when Father was not in prison.

[ΒΆ7] Father has never met WDW. He has made sporadic attempts to establish contact. On occasion, he requested visitation. Mother rebuffed those requests, claiming that visitation was not authorized by the divorce decree and that Father was not current in his child support obligations. Over the years, Father sent approximately 70 letters to ...


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