State of Utah, in the interest of Z.J. and Z.J., persons under eighteen years of age.
State of Utah, Appellee. C.J., Appellant,
District Juvenile Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable
Kimberly K. Hornak No. 1132272
Colleen K. Coebergh, Attorney for Appellant
D. Reyes, Carol L.C. Verdoia, and John M. Peterson, Attorneys
Pierce, Guardian ad Litem
Judges Gregory K. Orme, J. Frederic Voros Jr., and Jill M.
C.J. (Father) appeals the termination of his parental rights
to Z.J. and Z.J. We affirm.
"Whether a parent's rights should be terminated
presents a mixed question of law and fact." In re
B.R., 2007 UT 82, ¶ 12, 171 P.3d 435. "Because
of the factually intense nature of such an inquiry, the
juvenile court's decision should be afforded a high
degree of deference." Id. "Thus, in order
to overturn the juvenile court's decision the result must
be against the clear weight of the evidence or leave the
appellate court with a firm and definite conviction that a
mistake has been made." Id. (citation and
internal quotation marks omitted). Further, "[w]hen a
foundation for the court's decision exists in the
evidence, an appellate court may not engage in a reweighing
of the evidence." Id.
"Utah law requires a court to make two distinct findings
before terminating a parent-child relationship." In
re R.A.J., 1999 UT App 329, ¶ 7, 991 P.2d 1118.
"First, the court must find that the parent is below
some minimum threshold of fitness, such as finding that a
parent is unfit or incompetent based on any of the grounds
for termination" in Utah Code section 78A-6-507.
Id. (citation and internal quotations marks
omitted). "Second, the court must find that the best
interests and welfare of the child are served by terminating
. . . parental rights." Id.
Father does not challenge any of the grounds for termination
of his parental rights found by the juvenile court. Father
instead challenges only the juvenile court's best
interest finding. Specifically, Father claims that "his
lapse in involvement in the case" was not a substitute
for proof that he cannot parent and that the juvenile court
"failed to adequately consider the importance of his
biological relationship" with the children and "the
right to familial association."
"If appellant intends to urge on appeal that a finding
or conclusion is unsupported by or is contrary to the
evidence, the appellant must include in the record a
transcript of all evidence relevant to such finding or
conclusion." Utah R. App. P. 54(b). Father has not
provided a transcript of the termination trial. Absent an
adequate record on appeal, this court cannot address the
adequacy of the evidentiary support for the juvenile
court's findings and must "assume the regularity of
the proceedings below." In re K.L.S., 2015 UT
App 51, ¶ 5, 345 P.3d 1281 (per curiam) (citation and
internal quotation marks omitted). Because Father did not
provide a transcript, we assume that the court's factual
findings are supported by sufficient evidence. Thus, we
consider only whether the court's findings are legally
sufficient to support its best interest determination. The
following findings are relevant to that issue.
On July 5, 2016, the Division of Child and Family Services
(DCFS) received a referral of child endangerment against the
children's mother (Mother) regarding twins Z.J. and Z.J.
Within a few days, Mother gave birth to a younger sibling,
who tested positive for methamphetamine and amphetamine at
birth. Mother also tested positive for methamphetamine,
amphetamine, and THC. On July 12, 2016, DCFS obtained a
warrant for removal of all three children, although child
protection workers initially were unable to locate the twins.
DCFS also was unsuccessful in its efforts to locate Father.
During the child welfare case and the resulting termination
of parental rights case, Father resided in Ohio and did not
enter Utah. Father participated in several hearings and the
termination trial by telephone and through his counsel. On
August 29, 2016, the juvenile court adjudicated the
State's petition for custody, finding that the children
were neglected by Mother and dependent as to Father and
therefore within juvenile court jurisdiction. Father had a
lengthy criminal history dating from 2009. Father also had
several active warrants and pending charges in Utah. The
juvenile court ordered reunification services for Mother in
Utah and ordered an Interstate Compact on the Placement of
Children (ICPC) investigation on Father in Ohio. At a
six-month review hearing on January 5, 2017, the juvenile
court was informed that Ohio had not approved an ICPC to
allow the children to be placed with him due to his criminal
history and outstanding warrants. At the time of the
permanency hearing held on February 2, 2017, Father had not
returned to Utah to resolve the outstanding warrants so as to
pave the way for the children to be placed with him. The
juvenile court terminated Mother's reunification services
and changed the permanency goal to adoption.
¶8 Following the termination trial, the juvenile court
found that Father left the children in Utah in 2015 and moved
to Ohio. The court found that Father testified that he sent
some money to Mother for support but that it was not
consistent. Since August 2016-when the adjudication order was
entered-Father "ha[d] not come to Utah, ha[d] not
visited the children and did not pass an ICPC check of his
situation [or] pass a home study." The court also noted
that Father testified that he would ...