State Supreme Court Clarifies Analysis For Determining Best Interests Of A Child In A Parental Termination Case

Friday, September 29, 2017
The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled on Friday that courts must consider all nine statutory factors, as well as any other relevant facts, when deciding whether terminating parental rights is in a child’s best interests. The Supreme Court explained that requiring courts to consider all relevant facts and circumstances ensures each case receives individualized consideration before fundamental parental rights are terminated.
In the case before the Supreme Court, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) removed three children, Gabriella, Jude, and Chance, from their parents’ custody in March 2012, and placed them in foster care after the youngest child, six-month-old Chance, was diagnosed with severe malnourishment, having gained only eight ounces since birth.
 The parents already had a long history with DCS and a child protective agency in Georgia, with a Georgia court having previously terminated their parental rights to two older children because of drug abuse and domestic violence.
After removing the children, DCS and the parents entered into a written agreement called a permanency plan, which required the parents to complete drug treatment and submit to drug tests, among other things, in order to regain custody of the children. The case was under the supervision of the juvenile court. For a few months, the parents failed to meet their obligations under the permanency plan. But, in July 2012, mother separated herself from the father and began meeting her obligations under the permanency plan, including passing drug tests and completing drug treatment, obtaining employment, creating a family support structure, securing housing, and bonding with the children during visits. As the mother’s compliance continued, DCS increased her visitation and planned to return the children to her custody, beginning with a trial home visit in July 2013. The foster parents disagreed with DCS’s decision, and on the day the mother’s trial home visit was to begin, they filed a petition in circuit court, not in the juvenile court where the case had been pending since the children were removed in 2012. The foster parents asked the circuit court to terminate the mother’s parental rights and allow them to adopt the children. By early October 2013, the juvenile court ordered DCS to place the children with the mother on a trial basis. By the time of the circuit court trial in 2015 on the foster parents’ termination and adoption petition, the children had been living with their mother for about two years and the father had voluntarily surrendered his parental rights.
After hearing the proof presented, the circuit court ruled that the foster parents had proven severe abuse or neglect by the higher clear and convincing evidence standard applicable in parental termination cases. But the circuit court ruled that the foster parents had failed to prove the second requirement necessary to terminate parental rights under Tennessee law, specifically, that termination of parental rights is in the best interests of the children. In a two-to-one decision, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s determination on this point and held that the foster parents had proven by clear and convincing evidence that termination of mother’s parental rights would be in the children’s best interests. 
The Supreme Court granted the mother permission to appeal, reversed the Court of Appeals, and reinstated the trial court’s judgment. The Supreme Court emphasized that the mother had complied with the permanency plan, had not tested positive for drugs since June 2012, had obtained stable employment and housing, and had cared for the children for two years at the time of trial without incident. The Supreme Court pointed to proof showing that the children had thrived in the mother’s care and stated that they want to live with mother and to expert testimony that removing the children from mother’s care would be a loss for them.  

The Supreme Court said that the Court of Appeals did not err by considering mother’s history of drug abuse and poor parenting and the risk that she will return to those behaviors once DCS is no longer involved. But, the Supreme Court explained these factors do not amount to clear and convincing evidence that termination of the mother’s parental rights would be in the children’s best interests, when evaluated along with the other factors the law requires courts to consider and all the proof in this case. The Supreme Court commended the foster parents for their genuine concern and affection for the children, but emphasized that fundamental parental rights may not be terminated unless clear and convincing evidence shows that termination is in the best interests of the children.

To read the unanimous opinion in In re Gabriella D. et al., authored by Justice Cornelia A. Clark, go to the opinions section of

New Hamilton County Businesses


Alexander: Supreme Court Decision On State And Local Sales Taxes A Big Boost for Main Street Businesses, Local Governments

Senator Lamar Alexander today told the nation’s county leaders that a recent Supreme Court decision allowing states to collect state and local sales taxes from out-of-state sellers will be “a big boost for Main Street businesses and local governments.”    “Main Streets across America are under pressure. One reason is that the federal government has prevented state ... (click for more)

5 People Shot On Cowart Street Early Sunday Morning

Five people were shot on Cowart Street early Sunday morning.   At approximately 2:55 a.m., Chattanooga Police responded to the area of 1400 Cowart Street on reports of multiple people shot. The shooting was near Coyote Jack's where one person was killed and another injured in a shooting in December 2017.   Upon arrival, police found several ... (click for more)

Body Of Robert Townsend, 60, Found In Dumpster On Laura Street

The body of Robert Townsend, 60, was found on Friday in a dumpster on Laura Street.   At approximately  11:19 a.m. , Chattanooga Police were dispatched to a deceased party in the 2500 block of Laura Street. Upon arrival, officers located the body inside the bin.     Violent Crimes Bureau responded to the scene. The decedent was transported to the ... (click for more)

Here We Go Again With The Same Cummings Highway, 12th Street Flooding

Here we go again with the same pitiful news reports about the Cummings Highway Interstate interchange with I-24 - Flooding yet again after a heavy rain.  TDOT is derelict in not having repaired this years ago.  How hard is it to get some excavators out there to dig up the collapsed drainage pipes which TDOT says are the cause of the flooding and replace them with ... (click for more)

Deal With The Graffiti Vandals

I travel to other neat old cities and don't see nearly the graffiti vandalism as in Chattanooga. Why do we allow one or two or three repeat vandals to mar our venerable Walnut Street Bridge, the pillars to the Holmberg Bridge, the remodeled Chief John Ross Market Street Bridge, the walls along our multi-million-dollar Riverwalk, our sidewalks, street signs and our old limestone ... (click for more)