State of Utah, in the interest of N.M., a person under eighteen years of age.
State of Utah, Appellee. E.M., Appellant,
District Juvenile Court, Provo Department The Honorable Brent
H. Bartholomew No. 1113723
D. Skousen, Attorney for Appellant
D. Reyes, Carol L.C. Verdoia, and John M. Peterson, Attorneys
Pierce, Guardian ad Litem
Jill M. Pohlman authored this Opinion, in which Judges Kate
A. Toomey and Ryan M. Harris concurred.
In this appeal, we are asked to address whether the juvenile
court properly terminated E.M.'s (Father) parental rights
to N.M. (Child). For the reasons explained below, we affirm.
Removal and the Initial Permanency Proceedings
In an April 2015 shelter proceeding, the juvenile court
determined that Child's removal from Father and
Child's mother (Mother) was necessary and in Child's
best interest due to both parents' incarceration. The
court thereafter adjudicated Child neglected as to both
Father and Mother, and it placed Child in the custody of the
Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS). DCFS created a
family plan for both Father and Mother and recommended
reunification as the primary permanency goal, with
Child's adoption as the concurrent goal. The court
accepted the proposed plan as well as the stated goals and
ordered DCFS to make "reasonable effort to finalize the
permanency goal." In November 2015, given Father's
and Mother's respective lack of progress, the court
granted temporary custody and guardianship of Child to his
maternal grandparents (Maternal Grandparents), subject to
DCFS supervision. Child remained with Maternal Grandparents
from then on.
The court thereafter terminated reunification services for
both parents and, accordingly, in a September 2016 permanency
hearing, changed the permanency goal to adoption, with the
concurrent goal of permanent custody and guardianship with
Maternal Grandparents. The court also determined that
Child's best interest required a petition for termination
of parental rights to be filed, and it ordered that such a
petition be filed, and a pretrial hearing held, within
Following the permanency order, the State filed a petition
for termination of parental rights (the TPR) as to both
parents. In it, the State recited the case history, which
included the fact that both parents had "serious"
substance abuse problems and that neither parent had remedied
the circumstances that led to Child's out-of-home
placement. The State asserted that it would be in Child's
best interest for Father's and Mother's parental
rights to be terminated, that Child was in need of
permanency, and that Child needed to be available for
adoption to achieve that permanence. The court ordered the
parents to participate in mediation and set the TPR for a
pretrial hearing on November 16, 2016.
November 2016 Pretrial Hearing
At the pretrial hearing, rather than proceeding with the TPR,
the State moved to change the temporary custody in Maternal
Grandparents to permanent custody and guardianship and to
dismiss the TPR. The State declared that "there are some
burdens of proof . . . that would be very difficult to be
able to carry forward" and that its request "would
be in the child's best interest."
In response, the court noted that adoption was the permanency
goal in the case, and it heard from those present regarding
the State's request to grant permanent custody and
guardianship to Maternal Grandparents. The State, the
Guardian ad Litem, and the parents agreed that permanent
custody and guardianship would be in Child's best
interest. Maternal Grandparents stated that their desire was
to adopt Child.
After hearing from those present, the court expressed concern
that granting the State's request to "set the goal
at permanent custody and guardianship" would only delay
the proceedings and increase the ...