Nos. 332899 No. 333324
UNPUBLISHED Wayne Circuit Court Family Division
LC No. 14-515579-NA Before: TALBOT, C.J., and JANSEN and HOEKSTRA, JJ. PER CURIAM.
In these consolidated cases, respondent appeals as of right the circuit court's orders terminating her parental rights to her three minor children pursuant to MCL 712A.19b(3)(c)(i), (g), and (j). Because the trial court did not clearly err by terminating respondent's parental rights, we affirm.
In docket no. 333324, the trial court terminated respondent's parental rights to her two oldest children pursuant to all three statutory grounds, but, in docket no. 332899, the trial court terminated respondent's parental rights to her youngest child, who was the subject of an original petition, pursuant to only MCL 712A.19b(3)(g) and (j). --------
Respondent is the mother of three children. Her two sons are 14 and 3 years of age, and respondent's daughter is one year old. Respondent has a long history of serious mental health issues dating back to 2003, including diagnoses of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and most recently, a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. At times, respondent has behaved erratically, and she has been hospitalized for psychiatric treatment on more than one occasion. Respondent's chronic mental health concerns have unfortunately interfered with respondent's ability to parent her children and provide for their care. Indeed, respondent's oldest son has lived with his maternal grandmother for almost his entire life. Shortly after his birth, respondent's younger son was also placed in the grandmother's care after respondent left him unattended in the shower room of a homeless shelter. Following this event, respondent's sons were adjudicated temporary court wards in April 2014 and the family was provided with services to address, primarily, respondent's mental health issues and her lack of stable housing.
For approximately a year, respondent participated in a treatment plan and made some progress toward reunification. However, respondent proved unable to sustain this early progress. Sometime in the spring of 2015, respondent became pregnant with her daughter. By August 2015, respondent had completely abandoned any effort to comply with her mental health treatment. She stopped taking her prescribed medications, failed to attend therapy, and self-medicated with marijuana as some sort of "substitute." Respondent also continued to struggle with housing. She moved frequently, she was often homeless, and she never succeeded in obtaining housing suitable for the children. After respondent's daughter was born in November 2015, the child was removed from respondent's care and also placed with her grandmother.
Petitioner filed an original petition with respect to respondent's daughter, seeking to terminate respondent's parental rights; and, later, petitioner filed a supplemental petition seeking to terminate respondent's parental rights with respect to her sons. Following two separate termination hearings, the trial court found that statutory grounds for termination were established for all three children pursuant to MCL 712A.19b(3)(g) and (j). With respect to the sons, the court also found that there was clear and convincing evidence to terminate respondent's parental rights pursuant to MCL 712A.19b(3)(c)(i). Respondent now appeals as of right.
Respondent first argues that the trial court erred when it found that the statutory grounds for termination were established by clear and convincing evidence. According to respondent, she made significant progress during the case and, although she regressed during her pregnancy, she had again resumed active participation in her treatment plan by the time her rights were terminated. Respondent maintains that, if given the opportunity, she can provide a proper home for her children.
To terminate parental rights, the trial court must find that at least one statutory ground for termination has been established by clear and convincing evidence. In re Trejo, 462 Mich 341, 355; 612 NW2d 407 (2000). This Court reviews the trial court's findings under the clearly erroneous standard. MCR 3.977(K). A finding is clearly erroneous if the reviewing court is left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed. In re Miller, 433 Mich 331, 337; 445 NW2d 161 (1989).
The trial court terminated respondent's parental rights to all three children under MCL 712A.19b(g), and (j), which permit termination when the following conditions are satisfied:
(g) The parent, without regard to intend, fails to provide proper care or custody for the child and there is no reasonable expectation that the parent will be able to provide proper care and custody within a reasonable time considering the child's age.
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(j) There is a reasonable likelihood, based on the conduct or capacity of the child's parent, that the child will be harmed if he or she is returned to the home of the parent.
Additionally, the trial court terminated respondent's rights to her sons under MCL 712A.19b(3)(c)(i), which states:
The parent was a respondent in a proceeding brought under this chapter, 182 or more days have elapsed since the issuance of an initial dispositional order, and the court, by clear and convincing evidence, finds either of the following:
(i) The conditions that led to the adjudication continue to exist and there is no reasonable likelihood that the conditions will be rectified within a reasonable time considering the child's age.
After reviewing the record, we conclude that the trial court did not clearly err when it found that these statutory grounds for termination were established by clear and convincing evidence. Respondent's two sons were originally made wards of the court because of her mental health issues and her inability to maintain stable housing. Services included parenting classes, parenting time, psychiatric and psychological evaluations, individual and family therapy, a parent-partner, housing assistances, drug screening, and bus tokens. Initially, respondent showed some compliance with the treatment plan, and indeed, had obtained some measure of stability with her mental health treatment.
However, respondent could not maintain this stability and she consistently lacked suitable housing. After being provided with services for more than a year, respondent became pregnant with her daughter, at which point she completely abandoned her mental health treatment. Any stability respondent may have achieved quickly evaporated. Respondent's behavior became so erratic during her pregnancy that she was a danger to herself and others, and she was hospitalized for psychiatric treatment. Respondent contends that she was instructed to discontinue her psychotropic medications during her pregnancy; however, even if this were true, it does not explain why she neglected to attend individual and family therapy during her pregnancy or why it took her more than two months to begin treatment after she gave birth to her daughter. Moreover, rather than comply with a treatment regime, respondent used marijuana during her pregnancy and, indeed, used marijuana the night before the termination hearing. Quite simply, despite ample opportunity for treatment, respondent's chronic mental health concerns remained a substantial barrier to reunifying respondent with her children.
In addition to her psychiatric issues, respondent never demonstrated that she could obtain and maintain suitable housing. Respondent was frequently homeless during the 2½ years the case was pending and she moved several times. In December 2015, respondent found housing. But the apartment had neither gas nor furniture; and, at the time of the termination hearing in May 2016, respondent knew that she was not going to be able to pay her rent and that there was a very real possibility that she would, once again, be homeless.
Moreover, we note that even with parenting classes and individual and family therapy, respondent never demonstrated that she could safely parent her children. She did not truly engage with the children during her parenting time and was easily distracted. During one of the visits at the agency in March 2016, respondent was sidetracked by a cell phone call and a bottle she was warming on the stove caught on fire. Although the fire was quickly extinguished, the alarms were triggered, the agency building was evacuated, and the fire department arrived on the scene.
Considering the foregoing, the trial court did not clearly err when it found clear and convincing evidence to terminate respondent's parental rights to all three children pursuant to MCL 712A.19b(3)(g) and (j) and to terminate respondent's parental rights to her sons under MCL 712A.19b(3)(c)(i). The conditions that led to the adjudication continued to exist and there was no reasonable likelihood that the conditions would be rectified within a reasonable time considering her sons' ages. See MCL 712A.19b(3)(c)(i). Moreover, the evidence established that respondent failed to properly care for her children, that she would not be able to properly parent her children within a reasonable time considering their ages, and that the children were reasonably likely to be harmed if returned to her care. See MCL 712A.19b(3)(g) and (j).
Next, respondent challenges the trial court's finding that termination of her parental rights was in the children's best interest. According to respondent, she has a bond with her children, she has shown progress in her treatment plan, and she can care for her children. Respondent also emphasizes the need to consider the children individually, in light of their various ages, and she contends that termination was not an appropriate option considering the children's placement with a relative. Instead, respondent suggests that a guardianship would have been appropriate.
"If the court finds that there are grounds for termination of parental rights and that termination of parental rights is in the child's best interests, the court shall order termination of the parental rights and order that additional efforts for reunification of the child with the parent not be made." MCL 712A.19b(5). Whether termination is in a child's best interests is determined by a preponderance of the evidence. In re Moss, 301 Mich App 76, 90; 836 NW2d 182 (2013). The trial court may consider a variety of factors when deciding a child's best interests, including "the child's bond to the parent, the parent's parenting ability, the child's need for permanency, stability and finality, and the advantages of a foster home over the parent's home." In re Olive/Metts, 297 Mich App 35, 41-42; 823 NW2d 144 (2012) (internal citations omitted). The court may also consider psychological evaluations and a parent's history. In re Jones, 286 Mich App 126, 129; 777 NW2d 728 (2009). In addition, a "trial court has a duty to decide the best interests of each child individually" and to consider a child's placement with a relative when determining whether termination is in the child's best interests. In re Olive/Metts, 297 Mich App at 42-43. We review a trial court's best interests determination for clear error. In re White, 303 Mich App 701, 713; 846 NW2d 61 (2014).
Applying the foregoing, we conclude that the trial court did not clearly err when it found that termination of respondent's parental rights was in the best interests of all three children. Contrary to respondent's argument, there was not a significant bond between respondent and her children. The trial court noted that respondent's oldest child did not want to live with respondent and that her younger children had only known the security provided by their grandmother. Moreover, all three children need to be raised in a home that will provide them with safety, stability, and permanency, but respondent was not able to meet these needs. Although provided ample opportunity, respondent failed to adequately address her deficient parenting skills, mental health issues, and lack of stable housing. Respondent never demonstrated that she could safely and appropriately parent her children. Indeed, because respondent had not adequately addressed her mental health issues, despite being offered services, the children would be at risk if placed in respondent's care. In comparison, respondent's mother has cared for these three children for most of their lives. The foster care worker reported that all the children were doing well in this relative placement, the children were bonded to their grandmother and to each other, and the grandmother expressed a willingness to adopt all three children.
Although placement with a relative ordinarily weighs against termination, MCL 712A.19a(6)(a), a trial court may nonetheless terminate parental rights if it finds that termination is in the child's best interests. In re Olive/Metts, 297 Mich App at 43. In this respect, the trial court determined that the facts of this case were such that nothing "short of adoption" would be in the children's best interests. To support this conclusion, the trial court discussed the volatile relationship between respondent and her mother that was exacerbated by respondent's mental instability. Verbal altercations between respondent and her mother had escalated to the point where property had been damaged and the police summoned. Given respondent's erratic behavior and her hostility toward her mother, the trial court reasonably concluded that this was not a case where the children's placement with their grandmother should preclude termination.
In addition to the difficulties in respondent's relationship with her mother, other evidence also indicated that a guardianship, in particular, would not be an appropriate alternative to adoption. Respondent's inability to care for her children is not a temporary situation, meaning that her children, particularly her youngest children, were in need of long-term planning. In this regard, the foster care worker testified that adoption, rather than a guardianship, would be the preferable avenue by which to achieve the finality needed in this case considering that respondent's youngest children are only 1 and 3 years of age. Although the elder son is significantly older than the toddlers, he did not want to live with respondent and he voiced a desire to be adopted by his grandmother. Under these circumstances, the trial court did not clearly err when it rejected any solution "short of adoption" and determined that termination of respondent's parental rights was in each of the children's best interests.
/s/ Michael J. Talbot
/s/ Kathleen Jansen
/s/ Joel P. Hoekstra