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In re Termination of Parental Rights To KMJ

November 4, 2010

IN THE MATTER OF THE TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS TO: KMJ AND JDAJ, MINOR CHILDREN,
AJJ, APPELLANT (RESPONDENT),
v.
THE STATE OF WYOMING, DEPARTMENT OF FAMILY SERVICES, APPELLEE (PETITIONER).



Appeal from the District Court of Sheridan County The Honorable John G. Fenn, Judge.

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

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

[¶1] Appellant, AJJ, challenges the district court's order terminating his parental rights pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-2-309(a)(v) (LexisNexis 2007). He contends there was insufficient evidence to support the district court's finding that he was unfit to have custody and control of the children. He also claims that the Department of Family Services (DFS) failed to prove that less intrusive alternatives to termination of his parental rights were impractical. We affirm.

ISSUES

[¶2] The issues on appeal are:

1. Whether the district court's determination that Appellant's parental rights should be terminated was established by clear and convincing evidence.

2. Whether DFS was required, under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-2-309(a)(v), to prove that less intrusive alternatives to termination of Appellant's parental rights were impractical.

FACTS

[¶3] Appellant is the father of KMJ and JDAJ. KMJ was born in 2003. JDAJ was born in 2004. Their mother died in a car accident in April 2007. Appellant was in prison at the time. The children were taken into protective custody and have been in the custody of DFS since that time. JDAJ has never lived with Appellant, and KMJ only lived with Appellant for the first year of her life.

[¶4] The first involvement of DFS with the family occurred in 2003, shortly after KMJ was born. At that time, DFS received a report indicating that the home was unsafe and unsanitary. A few months later, KMJ was taken into protective custody for a short period of time, amid reports that she was not being fed properly and had been left with many different caretakers without contact information for the parents.

[¶5] In June 2004, Appellant was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition, and was sentenced to serve 51 months in a federal prison. This was his third felony conviction. Appellant was previously convicted of grand larceny in 1994 and of felony child abuse in 1996. The felony child abuse conviction resulted from Appellant's physical abuse of a fifteen-month-old child. The abuse included force feeding the child cigarettes and tobacco, burning the child on the hands and feet, and causing bruising to the child's buttocks, thigh, and forehead. Appellant was not the child's father.

[¶6] In October 2005, DFS again received information concerning the condition of the home and the children. At the time, the children lived only with Mother because Appellant was in prison. DFS worked with Mother and provided services to preserve the family unit in the home, but eventually requested that the county attorney file a neglect petition.

[¶7] A Juvenile Neglect Petition was filed in March 2006. Mother admitted the allegations. Despite the admission, the children were permitted to remain in Mother's custody while she worked with DFS to achieve the goals established in a case plan. During this period, Mother and Appellant expressed their intention to divorce. The divorce was not finalized prior to Mother's death.

[ΒΆ8] After Mother's death, the children were taken into protective custody and placed in a foster home. The Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT) and DFS recommended a permanency plan of adoption due to Appellant's incarceration, his inability to care for the children for an extended period of time, and his history of child abuse. The district court initially accepted the recommendation but also provided ...


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