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Elaine C. v. Robert C.

Court of Appeals of Arizona, First Division

November 19, 2013

ELAINE C., Appellant,
v.
ROBERT C., S.C., L.C., D.C., Appellees.

Not for Publication See Ariz. R. Sup. Ct. 111(c); Ariz. R. Crim. P. 31.24

Appeal from the Superior Court in Navajo County No. SV201200037 The Honorable Ralph E. Hatch, Judge.

John A. Banker Attorney at Law, Phoenix By John A. Banker Counsel for Appellant

Riggs, Ellsworth & Porter PLC, Phoenix By Michael R. Ellsworth Counsel for Appellee

Judge Kenton D. Jones delivered the decision of the Court, in which Presiding Judge Peter B. Swann and Judge Sally S. Duncan joined.

MEMORANDUM DECISION

JONES, Judge

¶1 Elaine C. ("mother") appeals the trial court's order terminating her parental rights to her children, S.C., L.C., and D.C. ("the children").[1] On appeal, mother contends the trial court's decision to terminate her parental rights lacked clear and convincing evidence she abandoned her children, arguing instead that father blocked her efforts to see the children. Mother also argues the trial court lacked clear and convincing evidence her alcoholism would continue for a prolonged indeterminate period. Mother asserts termination of parental rights was not in the best interest of the children because the children enjoyed spending time with her. We disagree. For the following reasons, we affirm the trial court's decision.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

¶2 Mother and father married in April 2004. Mother is the biological parent of the children, S.C., L.C., and D.C. Father, the biological parent of S.C. and D.C, legally adopted L.C. in 2007. Parents divorced in 2008 due in part to mother's alleged alcoholism.[2] The terms of divorce provided for joint legal custody while father retained primary physical custody. In October 2010, the children spent a total of five days with mother at mother's residence. The children were returned to father as if they had been "unsupervised." Father observed the children "basically looked like homeless kids. They hadn't showered or bathed or brushed their teeth in five days." Photos of the mother's residence taken near the time of the incident portrayed a home in disarray. As a result, father filed for an emergency hearing. At the conclusion of the ex parte proceeding, the court modified mother's parenting time without notice. The modified order provided mother only supervised parenting time. On December 12, 2010, a subsequent hearing affirmed the order with an additional requirement that mother shall not consume alcohol at any time during visitation.[3] Mother did not exercise parenting time rights until June 2011. Between 2009 and 2012, mother availed herself of parenting time primarily on holidays and birthdays.[4]

¶3 Between the time of divorce in 2008 and the severance trial in 2013, mother arrived at the children's residence unannounced and intoxicated "so many times" father could not recall the exact number. As a result of mother's conduct on these occasions, father filed a Petition for an Order of Protection which the trial court granted in April 2012. The trial court modified the Order of Protection in September 2012, and reinstated mother's supervised visits with the children. The modified order kept in place the Order of Protection which prohibited mother from visiting the children while intoxicated. Father moved to terminate mother's parental rights in October 2012. The severance trial began on March 4, 2013. The balance of the hearing was continued and finalized on April 3, 2013. The trial court subsequently terminated mother's parental rights in April 2013, finding mother abandoned the children by virtue of her failure to maintain regular contact and provide normal supervision for a period in excess of six months; mother was unable to discharge her parental responsibilities because of chronic abuse of alcohol; and it was in the best interest of the children to terminate the mother's parent-child relationship.

DISCUSSION

¶4 Mother appeals the termination of her parental rights on four issues. First, mother asserts she did not abandon the children due to her failure to maintain regular contact, asserting that father had presented obstacles to her visitation efforts. Second, mother asserts the trial court lacked clear and convincing evidence her alcoholism would continue for a prolonged indeterminate period. Third, mother argues that termination was not in the children's best interests. Fourth, mother contends the trial court erred by denying mother's motion to join the termination proceedings with the post-decree custody matters pending in the same court.

¶5 To terminate a parent-child relationship, the trial court must find by clear and convincing evidence that at least one statutory ground exists, and must find by a preponderance of the evidence that termination is in the child's best interest pursuant to Ariz. Rev. Stat. ("A.R.S.") § 8-533(B) (West 2013); Kent K. v. Bobby M., 210 Ariz. 279, 288, ¶ 41, 110 P.3d 1013, 1022 (2005); Michael J. v. Ariz. Dept' of Econ. Sec, 196 Ariz. 246, 249, ¶ 12, 995 P.2d 682, 685 (2000).

¶6 The trial court may terminate the parent-child relationship if it finds by clear and convincing evidence that a parent is unable to discharge parental responsibilities due to a history of chronic abuse of alcohol and there are reasonable grounds to believe that the condition will continue for a prolonged indeterminate period. A.R.S. §§ 8-533(B)(3), -537(B). The record supports the termination order based on chronic abuse of alcohol. As such, we need not address the other independent grounds for the termination of mother's parental rights. See Jesus M. v. Ariz. Dep't of Econ. Sec, 203 Ariz. 278, 280, ¶ 3, 53 P.3d 203, ...


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