C.G.S. v. State (State ex rel. K.S.)

Citation512 P.3d 497
Decision Date26 May 2022
Docket Number20210520-CA
Parties STATE of Utah, IN the INTEREST OF K.S. and C.S., Persons Under Eighteen Years of Age. C.G.S., Appellant, v. State of Utah, Appellee.
CourtCourt of Appeals of Utah

Sheleigh A. Harding and Beau Dean Blackley, Attorneys for Appellant

Sean D. Reyes, Carol L. Verdoia, and John M. Peterson, Salt Lake City, Attorneys for Appellee

Martha Pierce, Salt Lake City, Guardian ad Litem

Judge Ryan M. Harris authored this Opinion, in which Judges Gregory K. Orme and Michele M. Christiansen Forster concurred.

Amended Opinion1

HARRIS, Judge:

¶1 After a bench trial, the juvenile court terminated C.G.S.’s (Father) parental rights regarding K.S. and C.S. (collectively, the Children). The court determined that multiple statutory grounds for termination were present and that it was in the Children's best interest for Father's rights to be terminated. Father now appeals, and we affirm.

BACKGROUND

¶2 Father is the biological father of C.S. (born in 2009), and asserts that he is the biological father of K.S. (born in 2007), although his parental rights with regard to K.S. have never been established. Both Children share the same mother (Mother).

¶3 The family's first encounter with the child welfare system took place in 2010, when the Children were adjudicated as neglected by both Father and Mother—who were living together at the time—and were placed under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court. Over the next few months, the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) provided services to the family in an effort to address the concerns raised, and the case proceeded successfully, with the court terminating its jurisdiction in 2011.

¶4 In or about 2011, Father relocated to Louisiana, while Mother and the Children remained in Utah. At some point thereafter, Mother asked Father to take over caring for the Children for a while. The Children lived with Father in Louisiana for several years,2 until Father relocated to Colorado in July 2016 to seek better work opportunities. At that point, Father asked Mother to take the Children back for the following school year; his expectation was that they would return to his care after the school year ended. But over the ensuing months, communication between Father and Mother deteriorated; after that, Father had no in-person contact with the Children and only sporadic telephonic communication, and the Children did not ever return to Father's care. Eventually, Father returned to Louisiana.

¶5 In January 2019, Mother contacted Father and asked him to come to Utah from Louisiana to pick up C.S., who was apparently exhibiting discipline problems. Father obliged, and arranged to rent a car and take time off work to drive to Utah. When he arrived, however, Mother refused to allow Father to take either of the Children, and he returned to Louisiana without them.

¶6 A few months later, in April 2019, DCFS filed a petition for protective supervision, alleging that Mother had "substance abuse issues" and asking the juvenile court to find the Children abused and neglected by Mother and dependent as to Father. At a pretrial hearing held soon after the filing of the petition, Father appeared telephonically and voluntarily waived his right to counsel. He entered a general denial as to any allegations against him and requested another hearing on the matter. The court scheduled another pretrial hearing for the following month, and explained to all parties, including Father, that they had the right to an attorney at future hearings, even if they could not afford one on their own; the court also provided all parties with instructions on how to apply for a court-appointed attorney.

¶7 The following month, after Mother tested positive for illegal drugs and indicated her desire to enter an inpatient treatment program, DCFS filed a motion asking the court to authorize DCFS to remove the Children from Mother's home. A shelter hearing was held on May 9, 2019 to address the motion; Father again appeared telephonically and again waived his right to counsel. At the hearing, the court found that removal of the Children from Mother's home was in their best interest, and transferred temporary custody and guardianship to DCFS. After Father asked the court "about having the [C]hildren placed with him," the court ordered DCFS to "investigate the safety and appropriateness of the non-custodial parent or relatives to assume custody" of the Children.

¶8 Upon Mother's loss of custody, DCFS initially placed the Children with Mother's ex-husband (Stepfather). It soon became apparent, however, that C.S. required more one-on-one attention than Stepfather could provide, so DCFS then placed C.S. with several foster families, each for a short time. Eventually, DCFS placed C.S. with his elementary school principal (Foster Mother) and her husband (collectively, Foster Parents), who signed up to become foster parents specifically for C.S; he has lived with Foster Parents ever since. K.S. remained with Stepfather for a time, then was placed with a foster family for a short period after Stepfather relocated, but in 2020 she went to live with Stepfather in his new location. As of the time of trial, C.S. was living with Foster Parents and K.S. was living with Stepfather; both Children were doing well in their respective placements and were proceeding toward adoption with those families.

¶9 On May 16, 2019, one week after the shelter hearing, the court held another hearing at which Father appeared telephonically. The court again explained to Father "the process to request a public defender," and emailed Father the relevant request form, which Father acknowledged receiving. The court ordered Mother and Father to participate in a mediation in early June 2019, but Father did not appear at the scheduled mediation. The court also scheduled another hearing for June 20, 2019, but Father did not appear at that hearing either, despite the court's attempt to reach him via telephone. At the June 20 hearing, the court adjudicated the Children neglected by Mother.

¶10 Based on Father's failure to appear at both the mediation and the June 20 hearing, and based on the fact that he had failed to answer the State's petition, the State filed a motion asking the court to "enter a default" against Father. The court granted the motion and later entered a default judgment against Father.3

¶11 The court held a review hearing in October 2019, and Father appeared by phone. During the hearing, Father "expressed a desire" to have the Children placed with him in Louisiana. Mother objected, asserting that the Children were "afraid" of Father,4 and the court ordered "an expedited ICPC[5 ] with Louisiana to allow DCFS to ... determine if [placing the Children with Father] is a proper placement."

¶12 In January 2020, while DCFS was "working on the ICPC," the court held another review hearing, but Father again failed to appear, and did not answer the phone when the court called him. Father did, however, appear at a subsequent hearing in early June 2020 (held via videoconference), and for the first time claimed to have filled out and sent in the indigency forms requesting appointment of a public defender. The court indicated that it had not yet received the completed forms, but in light of Father's request for counsel—and at the urging of appointed counsel for Mother—the court went ahead and appointed an attorney to represent him anyway, at least on a temporary basis. From that point forward, Father has always been represented by counsel in this matter.

¶13 At another hearing a week later, Father's attorney appeared but Father did not, despite the court's attempt to contact him. The court indicated, however, that it had received the completed indigency forms from Father, and it appointed him counsel on a permanent basis.

¶14 At a continued permanency hearing in late June 2020, Father appeared via videoconference, as did his attorney. During the hearing, the court inquired of Father as to why he had not remained in contact with the Children, and Father indicated that it was "because of his work"; the court found that though Father "did work on the oil rigs," he had "the opportunity to contact [the Children] and did not."

¶15 On June 30, 2020, Louisiana child welfare authorities sent a letter to DCFS "in reference to" DCFS's "inquiry regarding a home study request" for Father. Louisiana authorities indicated that they had made six unsuccessful attempts to contact Father before finally reaching him on the seventh attempt and scheduling an appointment for an interview. On the date of the scheduled interview, however, Father called and canceled, apparently "because of work," and the interview was rescheduled. On the rescheduled date, Louisiana authorities went to Father's home, but he told them that he was about to move and that he would not be living there when the Children might possibly be staying with him, so the authorities "did not complete a home assessment on that home." Father told the Louisiana authorities that he would call them with his new address, but he never did, and the authorities’ subsequent "attempts to reach him were futile." Some five months later, Father finally contacted them and told them his phone had been broken. Louisiana authorities closed the case due to Father "being noncompliant."

¶16 Later that summer, DCFS filed a petition seeking termination of both Mother's and Father's parental rights as to the Children. With regard to Father, DCFS alleged the existence of several grounds for termination, including abandonment, and asserted that it was in the Children's best interest that his parental rights be terminated. At a subsequent hearing, the court changed the primary permanency goal from reunification to adoption, with the intent that Stepfather would adopt K.S. and Foster Parents would adopt C.S. Another mediation was scheduled, at which Father did appear, but it was unsuccessful.

¶17 A few weeks later, after another hearing and at the...

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2 cases
  • A.B. v. R.C. (In re Interest of H.C.)
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Utah
    • December 22, 2022
    ...life," but instead focuses on "whether the child will be harmed by returning to the parent." See In re K.S. , 2022 UT App 68, ¶ 53, 512 P.3d 497 ("The best interest test is broad, and is intended as a holistic examination of all the relevant circumstances that might affect a child's situati......
  • A.B. v. R.C. (In re H.C.)
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Utah
    • December 22, 2022
    ...child's life," but instead focuses on "whether the child will be harmed by returning to the parent." See In re K.S., 2022 UT App 68, ¶ 53, 512 P.3d 497 ("The best interest test is broad, and is intended as a holistic examination of all the relevant circumstances that might affect a child's ......

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