In the Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of: S.S. (Minor Child)
The Indiana Department of Child Services, Appellee-Petitioner. and L.M. (Mother) and Sa.S. (Father), Appellants-Respondents,
from the White Circuit Court The Honorable Robert W. Thacker,
Judge Trial Court Cause No. 91C01-1712-JT-30
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT L.M. (MOTHER) Benjamin J. Church
Church Law Office Monticello, Indiana
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT SA.S. (FATHER) Christopher P. Phillips
Phillips Law Office, P.C. Monticello, Indiana
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General
of Indiana Natalie F. Weiss Deputy Attorney General
Summary and Issue
L.M. ("Mother") and Sa.S. ("Father")
(collectively "Parents") separately appeal the
juvenile court's judgment terminating their parental
rights to S.S. ("Child"). Parents present several
issues for our review which we consolidate and restate as:
whether the juvenile court erred in terminating their
parental rights. Concluding the juvenile court did not err in
terminating either Mother's or Father's parental
rights, we affirm.
and Procedural History
Mother and Father are the biological parents of Child who was
born on June 30, 2013. Child tested positive for THC at birth and
the Indiana Department of Child Services ("DCS")
conducted an informal adjustment and then a child in need of
services ("CHINS") case before reunifying Child
On May 16, 2016, DCS received a report that Parents were
neglecting Child and using illegal drugs in his presence.
After Parents were contacted by DCS, Mother refused a drug
screen and Father tested positive for methamphetamine,
amphetamine, and THC. Parents fled with Child to Florida, but
Father eventually returned with Child on May 27 and Child was
removed from his care. Child was placed in relative care with
paternal grandfather where Child remained throughout the
duration of this case.
DCS filed its CHINS petition on June 1, 2016 based on
Parents' drug use in the presence of the Child,
Mother's refusal to take a drug screen, Father's
positive drug test, Parents' decision to flee to Florida,
and Parents' prior involvement with DCS. The juvenile
court conducted a detention hearing on June 2 at which only
Father appeared and the juvenile court authorized Child's
continued removal and placement in relative care. Due to
Father being on probation when he fled to Florida, he was
incarcerated from June to August 2016 for violating the terms
of his probation.
Following a factfinding hearing, the juvenile court
adjudicated Child to be CHINS on September 28, 2016. The
juvenile court ordered Parents to, among other things:
maintain contact with DCS; maintain suitable, safe, and
stable housing; maintain a stable source of income; not use,
consume, trade or sell any illegal controlled substances;
obey the law; submit to random drug screens; attend all
scheduled visitations with the Child; engage in home based
case management; and complete a substance abuse assessment
and all treatment recommendations therefrom. Appellant's
[Mother's] Appendix, Volume II 19-23.
After Parents failed to comply with many of the terms ordered
by the juvenile court, DCS filed a verified petition for the
termination of the parent-child relationship
("TPR") between Father, Mother, and Child on
December 28, 2017. Following a TPR hearing on June 13 and
June 18, 2018, the juvenile court issued its termination
order on September 4, which included 160 findings of
and concluding DCS had met the statutory requirements for
terminating the parent-child relationships. See id.
at 65-66. Father and Mother now separately appeal. Additional
facts will be supplied as necessary.
Standard of Review
We begin, as we often do, by emphasizing that the right of
parents to establish a home and raise their children is
protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States
Constitution. In re D.D., 804 N.E.2d 258, 264
(Ind.Ct.App. 2004), trans. denied. The law provides
for the termination of these constitutionally protected
rights, however, when parents are unable or unwilling to meet
their parental responsibilities. In re R.H., 892
N.E.2d 144, 149 (Ind.Ct.App. 2008). We subordinate the
interests of the parents to those of the child when
evaluating the circumstances surrounding a termination.
In re K.S., 750 N.E.2d 832, 837 (Ind.Ct.App. 2001).
We do not reweigh the evidence or judge the credibility of
witnesses when reviewing the termination of parental rights.
In re D.D., 804 N.E.2d at 265. Rather, we
consider only the evidence and reasonable inferences most
favorable to the judgment. Id. Furthermore, in
deference to the juvenile court's unique position to
assess the evidence, we only set aside its judgment
terminating a parent-child relationship when it is clearly
erroneous. In re L.S., 717 N.E.2d 204, 208
(Ind.Ct.App. 1999), trans. denied, cert.
denied, 534 U.S. 1161 (2002).
Where, as here, the juvenile court enters findings of fact
and conclusions thereon, we apply a two-tiered standard of
review. Bester v. Lake Cty. Office of Family &
Children, 839 N.E.2d 143, 147 (Ind. 2005). We must first
determine whether the evidence supports the findings, then we
must determine whether the findings support the judgment.
Id. Findings will only be set aside if they are
clearly erroneous and findings are only clearly erroneous
"when the record ...