may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of the Welfare of:
J. A. V. and T. L. S.,
Filed October 14, 1997
Chisago County District Court
File No. J3-96-50426
Cheryl L. Glassel, Chisago County Attorney's Office, Chisago County Government Center, 313 North Main Street, Room 373, Center City, MN 55012 (for respondent Chisago County)
Peter J. Grundhoefer, 105 Main Street North, Center City, MN 55012 (attorney for mother)
Karlene Smith, P.O. Box 500, Chisago City, MN 55013 (guardian ad litem pro se)
James F. Schneider, Butts, Sandberg & Schneider, 155 South Lake Street, Forest Lake, MN 55025 (for children J.A.V. and T.L.S.)
Considered and decided by Harten, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Randall, Judge.
Appellant-father claims that his parental rights should not have been terminated because (1) the district court improperly considered his incarcerations and disregarded the possibility of long-term foster care; (2) the evidence was insufficient for termination; and (3) the district court did not effectuate the presumption against termination. We affirm.
When the son of appellant-father Garrett Jay Seals was born in 1993, father was 23 and the mother was 16. Shortly thereafter, the parents began cohabitating. In 1994, the parents had a daughter, and Chisago County became involved with the family. Later in 1994, the children were removed from the home and found in need of protection or services. The children were returned to the parents in May 1995, but once again were removed in July 1995. In 1996, the county sought to terminate the rights of both parents. After a 1997 trial, the district court terminated both parents' parental rights. Father appeals.
D E C I S I O N
The court may terminate parental rights upon clear and convincing evidence of at least one of the conditions in Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1 (1996). Minn. Stat. § 260.241, subd. 1 (1996). If the interests of a parent and a child conflict, the child's interests "are paramount." Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 4 (1996). On review,
an appellate court must determine whether the district court addressed the applicable statutory criteria, whether the court's findings were supported by substantial evidence, and whether the court's conclusions were clearly erroneous. Considerable 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) (citation omitted).
1. Father claims that under In re Welfare of R.T.B., 492 N.W.2d 1 (Minn. App. 1992), the district court improperly considered his incarcerations in deciding to terminate his parental rights. Alcohol is the crux of father's inability to parent properly, and his incarcerations are generally alcohol-related. It was not improper for the district court to consider father's incarcerations. See In re Welfare of A.Y.-J., 558 N.W.2d 757, 761 (Minn. App. 1997) (incarceration alone cannot justify termination but it can be considered with other evidence supporting termination), review denied (Minn. Apr. 15, 1997); see R.T.B., 492 N.W.2d at 3 (parent's incarceration considered in light of other facts). We reject this claim.
2. Father asserts that the district court abused its discretion by terminating his parental rights without considering long-term foster care under In re Welfare of M.P., H.P., H.P. and L.P., 542 N.W.2d 71, 75 (Minn. App. 1996). M.P. is distinguishable. There, despite a petition to terminate parental rights, a 15-year-old child stated that she wished to retain her relationship with the parent and did not want to be adopted. M.P. 542 N.W.2d at 75-76. Under those circumstances, the district court was required to consider the possibility of long-term foster care. See Minn. Stat. § 259.24, subd. 3 (1994) (adoption of a child over age 14 requires child's written consent). Here, the children are not over age 14 and, according to the guardian ad litem (GAL), have little relationship with their father to preserve.
3. Ruling that the children were neglected and in foster care, the district court terminated father's parental rights pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1(b)(8) (1996). For a child to be neglected and in foster care, the child must (a) be in court-ordered foster care; (b) have parents whose circumstances are such that the child cannot be returned to the parents; and (c) have parents who have failed to make "reasonable efforts" to adjust their circumstances despite available rehabilitative resources. Minn. Stat. § 260.015, subd. 18 (1996). Here, the children have been out of their home since July 1995. Father's challenges to the district court's determinations that the children cannot be returned to him and that he failed to make reasonable efforts to improve his circumstances despite adequate rehabilitative resources are unpersuasive.
Father claims that he was not provided adequate rehabilitative resources. See Minn. Stat. § 260.155, subd. 7(6) & (7) (1996) (when determining whether child is neglected and in foster care, court must consider, among other things, whether additional services would be likely to reunify family in ascertainable period of time and whether reunification efforts were reasonable). Having reviewed the services provided, the period over which they were provided, and testimony of those providing the services (including testimony that nothing else could have been done or tried to reunite this family), we cannot say that the services were inadequate. Indeed, the district court found the services provided to have been "exceptional."
In addressing father's claims that he had been sober for nine months, the district court stated: "[Father] has had periods of sobriety in the past followed by relapses." The district court also noted that father failed to document his alleged attendance at AA meetings and had previously given false information about his AA attendance. We defer to what is essentially the district court's determination that father's evidence of sobriety is not credible. L.A.F., 554 N.W.2d at 396.
Father also claims that termination is improper because the stable, clean home environment he has with his current companion shows improvement in his living arrangements, sobriety, and parenting skills. See In re Welfare of A.D., 535 N.W.2d 643, 647 (Minn. 1995) (termination of parental rights is proper only if it appears condition of dependency or neglect will continue for prolonged, indefinite period). The district court recognized that a psychologist had found positive changes in father's lifestyle but noted that the psychologist also indicated that father's prognosis was "guarded" depending on father's sobriety, motivation, living arrangement, employment, and financial security. The district court then observed that (a) a case worker had a "guarded" prognosis for father maintaining sobriety; (b) father had just lost his job and his companion was unemployed; (c) the evidence of father's continued sobriety was doubtful; (d) father had a traffic offense pending that could result in jail time; and (e) father had failed to comply with anger-awareness, domestic-abuse, and fine-payment aspects of his probation. We conclude that the district court's doubts about the expected duration of father's current improved circumstances were justifiable.
Father claims that the district court, in deciding to terminate parental rights, improperly considered the cost of the services that had been provided. Financial concerns are not mentioned in the termination order, and the county told the judge that the cost of services was not as important as the quality of the services.
Father claims the children's best interests do not favor termination and that the GAL testified that father had a good relationship with the children. The GAL testified that any relationship father had with the children "has deteriorated to being basically nonexistent at this point." Moreover, the GAL, a child protection specialist, and a home health nurse all viewed termination to be in the children's best interests.
In ruling that the children were neglected and in foster care, the district court addressed the applicable statutory criteria, made findings supported by substantial evidence, and made conclusions that were not clearly erroneous. Because we affirm the termination on grounds that the children are neglected and in foster care, we need not address the other bases on which the district court terminated father's parental rights. Minn. Stat. § 260.241, subd. 1.
4. Father claims that the district court failed to honor the presumption that it is in a child's best interests to be in the custody of his or her natural parent. See, e.g., In re Welfare of Clausen, 289 N.W.2d 153, 156 (Minn. 1980) (articulating presumption). Because we have concluded that the district court correctly found that termination was in the children's best interests, any failure by the district court to mention the Clausen presumption is harmless. See Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 4 (in termination proceedings, child's interests "are paramount"); In re Welfare of S.R.A., 527 N.W.2d 835, 838 (Minn. App. 1995) (refusing to reverse a termination for harmless error), review denied (Minn. Mar. 29, 1995).