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In the Matter of the Termination of Parental Rights To: Kat, Sat, and Jgs, Minor Children, Nlt v. the State of Wyoming

November 28, 2012

IN THE MATTER OF THE TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS TO: KAT, SAT, AND JGS, MINOR CHILDREN, NLT, APPELLANT (RESPONDENT), S-12-0068
v.
THE STATE OF WYOMING, DEPARTMENT OF FAMILY SERVICES, APPELLEE (PETITIONER). IN THE MATTER OF THE TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS TO: JGS, MINOR CHILD, MDS, APPELLANT (RESPONDENT), S-12-0069
v.
THE STATE OF WYOMING, DEPARTMENT OF FAMILY SERVICES, APPELLEE (PETITIONER).



Appeals from the District Court of Hot Springs County The Honorable Robert E. Skar, Judge

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

Before KITE, C.J., and GOLDEN,*fn1 HILL, VOIGT, and BURKE, JJ.

NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in Pacific Reporter Third. Readers are requested to notify the Clerk of the Supreme Court, Supreme Court Building, Cheyenne, Wyoming 82002, of any typographical or other formal errors so that correction may be made before final publication in the permanent volume.

[¶1] This opinion encompasses two separate cases that have been consolidated for the purpose of decision. NLT, who is one of the appellants in this matter, is the mother of KAT, SAT, and JGS. The other appellant, MDS, is the father of JGS. Following a fiveday bench trial, the district court terminated NLT's and MDS's parental rights to the minor children. Both parents appealed, claiming that the Department of Family Services (DFS) failed to provide clear and convincing evidence that their parental rights should be terminated. We affirm the district court's decision.

ISSUES

[¶2] 1. Did DFS present clear and convincing evidence to support the district court's decision to terminate NLT's parental rights to KAT, SAT, and JGS?

2. Did DFS present clear and convincing evidence to support the district court's decision to terminate MDS's parental rights to JGS?

FACTS

[¶3] When she was 17 years old, NLT married CRT, a 45-year-old convicted sex offender. Although NLT knew that her new husband had been convicted of sexually assaulting his son from a previous relationship, she believed that he "had learned his lesson." The couple lived in what can only be described as squalor, and, after seven years of marriage, the couple's first child, KAT, was born on December 13, 2000. Thereafter, a son, CT, was born*fn2 . NLT believed her relationship with CRT was good until after the children were born. At that point, CRT became abusive towards NLT and the children. When KAT was approximately two years old, NLT removed KAT's diaper and held her down while CRT sexually abused the child. Approximately a year after that event, NLT left the home with the children and, with the help of the Hope Agency, obtained a restraining order against CRT.

[¶4] Although they were separated and the restraining order had been issued, CRT continued to visit NLT and the children and would often stay the night at their apartment. NLT then became pregnant with their third child. NLT moved with her children to Riverton, but returned to Torrington and again lived with CRT. Their third child, SAT, was born on November 1, 2005. Thereafter, NLT divorced CRT and moved with the children back to Riverton.

[¶5] NLT began dating MDS and in April 2007, after becoming pregnant with his child, she moved her family to Thermopolis to live with him. That summer, KAT, CT, and SAT stayed with their father, CRT, for three weeks in Torrington. NLT was concerned about the children when they returned from the visit because the children were all having a difficult time using the bathroom and SAT had a yeast infection. NLT took the children to the doctor and the problems were resolved. NLT's and MDS's child, JGS, was born on October 2, 2007.

[¶6] After JGS was born, KAT disclosed to her mother that her uncle, GT, had touched her inappropriately while she was staying with her father the previous summer. NLT told MDS about KAT's allegations, and MDS advised NLT that she ought not report the abuse because DFS would take the children away. Although NLT was concerned that her children would be taken away, she reported the abuse to the Hope Agency. The DFS office in Torrington was notified of the allegations, but no action was taken or criminal charges filed.

[¶7] In 2008, DFS had two more contacts with the family: one regarding a report of SAT being left alone outside in inappropriate dress for winter and the other after a report of excessive punishment. In response to those reports, DFS offered parenting classes for the family and counseling services for KAT. NLT and MDS agreed to the parenting classes, but declined counseling for KAT. During this time, CT was no longer living with NLT and MDS. According to NLT, MDS and CT were not getting along and, thus, MDS suggested that CT live with CRT. This suggestion was made even though NLT and MDS both believed that CRT had been molesting CT. Although service providers helping the family at the time warned that it was not a good idea to send CT to live with CRT, NLT ultimately agreed to do so because she was afraid that MDS would otherwise make her leave the home.

[ΒΆ8] When service providers came to the home to assist NLT and MDS, they often observed inappropriate behavior, usually from MDS. MDS made threatening comments towards the providers and was belittling of NLT in front of others. One provider reported the behavior to her agency's attorney, who felt it was no longer safe for that provider to go to the home. With other providers, MDS generally left the room when parenting skills ...


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