This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

A07-297

 

In the Matter of the Welfare of the Child of:

R.A.S. and E.T., Parents.

 

 

Filed August 16, 2007

Affirmed

Worke, Judge

 

Douglas County District Court

File No. J9-06-50156

 

Jody Ollyver DeSmidt, David C. Gapen, Walling, Berg & Debele, P.A., 121 South Eighth Street, Suite 1100, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for appellant R.A.S.)

 

Susan R. Anderson, Anderson & Hochsprung, PLC, 507 N. Nokomis Street, Suite A, Alexandria, MN 56308 (for respondent E.T.)

 

Christopher D. Karpan, Douglas County Attorney, Douglas County Courthouse, 305 Eighth Avenue West, Alexandria, MN 56308 (for respondent Douglas County)

 

            Considered and decided by Wright, Presiding Judge; Minge, Judge; and Worke, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

WORKE, Judge

In this termination-of-parental-rights matter, appellant-mother argues that (1) her voluntary termination was conditioned on an adoption plan that was not realized; (2) the record lacks “good cause” justifying voluntary termination; and (3) termination violated her due-process rights, does not serve the child’s best interests, and is contrary to public policy.  We affirm.

D E C I S I O N

 

            Appellant R.A.S. argues that the district court erred by terminating her parental rights and denying her petition to involuntarily terminate father E.T.’s parental rights.  On appeal from the termination of parental rights, “appellate courts are limited to determining whether the findings address the statutory criteria, whether those findings are supported by substantial evidence, and whether they are clearly erroneous.”  In re Welfare of D.D.G.,558 N.W.2d 481, 484 (Minn. 1997).  This court must “closely inquire[] into the sufficiency of the evidence to determine whether the evidence is clear and convincing.”  In re Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d 886, 893 (Minn. 1996).  When making these determinations, this court exercises great caution, but “need find only one of the statutory grounds exists to terminate parental rights.”  Id.at 890.  The district court’s findings must be clear and specific to the statutory requirements, “and the evidence must address conditions that exist at the time of the hearing.”  Id. at 893.  “Interpretation of a statute involves a question of law, which is subject to de novo review.”  In re Welfare of Children of R.W.,678 N.W.2d 49, 54 (Minn. 2004).  On review, “[c]onsiderable deference is due to the district court’s decision because a district court is in a superior position to assess the credibility of witnesses.”  In re Welfare of L.A.F.,554 N.W.2d 393, 396 (Minn. 1996).

            In April 2006, appellant filed a petition to voluntarily terminate her parental rights.  A parent may voluntarily terminate parental rights upon a showing of good cause to terminate and that termination is in the best interests of the child.  Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subds. 1(a), 7 (2006); Minn. R. Juv. Prot. P. 43.04.  Upon receipt of a petition, the district court conducts a hearing to advise the parent of her rights to trial and representation, and determines whether the parent “fully understands the consequences of termination of parental rights and the alternatives to termination.” Minn. R. Juv. Prot. P. 43.04.  If the district court determines that the parent has complied with the statutory requirements for voluntary termination and that the parent understands her rights as well as the consequences of termination, the district court accepts her petition.  The district court must then determine if voluntary termination of parental rights is in the best interests of the child.  Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 7.  The child’s best interests are the overriding concern in termination proceedings.  Id.; see also In re Welfare of J.R., Jr.,655 N.W.2d 1, 5-6 (Minn. 2003).  If the district court finds that termination is in the child’s best interests, the district court orders termination of parental rights.

            Here, appellant asserted in her petition that she wished to terminate her parental rights for good cause—she wanted her child to be raised in a stable home and she had found such a placement.  Appellant asserted that she (1) understood the contents of the document, (2) waived her right to a trial, (3) understood that her decision was final, and (4) understood that after her rights were terminated, she could not seek reversal of the order except upon proof of fraud, duress, or undue influence.  The district court accepted appellant’s petition and found that good cause existed to terminate her parental rights because she made the decision to terminate her rights and she essentially abandoned the child by intentionally having no contact with the child for ten months.    

            The record supports the district court’s finding that appellant abandoned the child and that it was in the child’s best interests to have appellant’s rights terminated.  After the child’s birth in 2002, appellant and father maintained an on-again-off-again relationship.  While the couple was separated, father attempted to arrange visitation with the child; a request that appellant continually refused.  While appellant was incarcerated in January 2006, she left the child in the custody of another and failed to notify father of the child’s whereabouts.  Appellant decided while she was incarcerated that it would be in the child’s best interests if she placed him for adoption, but she never told father of this decision.  Appellant then made arrangements for the child to be adopted.  Because appellant petitioned to voluntarily terminate her parental rights and because the record supports the district court’s determination that good cause exists for termination and that it is in the child’s best interest, the court did not err in terminating appellant’s parental rights. 

            Appellant contends that the district court erred in granting her petition because the court failed to order that the child be placed for adoption and her consent was contingent on an adoption plan.  But the statute requires only that the district court find that there is written consent from a parent who wishes to terminate parental rights and that the district court find that good cause exists with the best interests of the child being the primary concern.  See Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subds. 1(a), 7.  The district court found that appellant voluntarily consented to termination of her parental rights, and the record supports this finding.  Further, the district court found that there was good cause to terminate appellant’s parental rights because that is what she wished to do and she had essentially abandoned the child by having no contact with him for ten months.  Because the record supports the district court’s findings, the court did not err in terminating appellant’s parental rights.                                                       

            Appellant argues that the district court violated her due-process rights by using abandonment as the good cause to terminate her parental rights.  But if at least one statutory ground for termination is supported by clear and convincing evidence and termination is in the child’s best interests, the district court’s decision to terminate parental rights will not be disturbed.  R.W., 678 N.W.2d at 55.  Appellant relies on In re Welfare of J.D.N., in which this court held that “circumstances that justify involuntary termination of parental rights under subdivision 1(b) do not necessarily justify the voluntary termination of parental rights under subdivision 1(a).”  504 N.W.2d 54, 56 (Minn. App. 1993).  In J.D.N., this court determined that the district court’s findings supporting termination were based on an involuntary termination, but that the findings did not support good cause for voluntary termination.  Id.  But the parent seeking to terminate parental rights in J.D.N. was the non-custodial parent, whereas here, appellant was the custodial parent until she left her child in the care of another for ten months.  And appellant testified that it was in the child’s best interests to terminate her parental rights, that she had not seen her child for ten months, and that good cause existed to terminate her parental rights.  Thus, good cause existed to terminate appellant’s parental rights because she was the custodial parent and she had not had contact with the child for ten months.

            Appellant also argues that it is against public policy to terminate her parental rights because it is not in the child’s best interests.  Appellant contends that the district court has left the child without a custodian and someone who is ready, willing, and able to fill the parental role.  But appellant’s assertion is contrary to her testimony that she believed that it was in the child’s best interests to terminate her parental rights.  Additionally, appellant petitioned to involuntarily terminate father’s parental rights, alleging that father abandoned the child and was a palpably unfit parent.  Father contested the petition.  The district court found that because appellant denied each attempt father made to arrange visitation, she failed to show that he abandoned the child.  The court further found that appellant failed to show that father was palpably unfit because there was no evidence that father injured or provided improper care for the child.  There is sufficient evidence supporting the district court’s denial of appellant’s petition to terminate father’s parental rights.  And although appellant’s concern that transitioning the child’s living arrangement from the proposed adoptive parents to father will be difficult is a valid concern, the justice system has procedures in place to adequately address this issue which will provide a safety net for the child throughout this process.   

            Appellant also contends that it is against public policy to terminate her parental rights because it will have a chilling affect on adoptions.  But the adoption that was arranged in this situation was not the result of a joint decision between both parents.  Father is willing to parent the child and did not know that appellant petitioned to terminate his parental rights until the day before the hearing.  The district court found that appellant failed to prove that father had abandoned the child and that he was palpably unfit to be a part of the parent-child relationship.  This finding is supported by the record.  Thus, the district court did not err in terminating appellant’s parental rights and not terminating father’s parental rights.   

            Affirmed.