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State ex rel. H.F.

Court of Appeals of Utah

December 12, 2019

State of Utah, in the interest of H.F., a person under eighteen years of age.
v.
E.F., Appellee. J.F., Appellant,

          Third District Juvenile Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Julie V. Lund No. 1100472

          Scott L. Wiggins and Lisa Lokken, Attorneys for Appellant

          Joshua P. Eldredge, Attorney for Appellee

          Martha Pierce, Guardian ad Litem

          Judge Michele M. Christiansen Forster authored this Opinion, in which Judges Jill M. Pohlman and Diana Hagen concurred.

          CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER, JUDGE.

         ¶1 J.F. (Mother) appeals from the juvenile court's termination of her parental rights to H.F. (Child). We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2 Child was born in December 2012. Soon after Child's birth, Mother discovered that her husband, E.F. (Father), had been using drugs. Suffering from postpartum depression, Mother also began using drugs with Father as a means of self-medicating.

         ¶3 In March 2014, the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) removed Child from Mother and Father's home as a result of their drug use. Upon removal, DCFS placed Child with Mother's parents (Grandparents). During this time, Grandparents facilitated visitation between Child and Father, as well as Father's extended family.

         ¶4 Soon after Child was removed from the parents' home, Mother began a relationship with "a really bad guy." She left Utah with him, and they began committing crimes together. Eventually, the pair were arrested, convicted of multiple crimes, and incarcerated.

         ¶5 Conversely, Father began participating in drug treatment in June 2014. After completing treatment, he became involved in various peer support groups to help others with drug addiction and even obtained a full-time job as a peer recovery coach for a nonprofit addiction-recovery agency. In March 2015, Father filed for divorce from Mother and was granted a default divorce awarding him full legal and physical custody of Child. In May 2015, upon the State's motion, the juvenile court terminated its jurisdiction and DCFS involvement. After Father regained custody of Child, Grandparents continued to provide regular daycare for Child.

         ¶6 In July 2016, Father moved the juvenile court to terminate Mother's parental rights. Father was engaged to be married, and his fiancée (Fiancée) wanted to adopt Child, but they had not yet set a wedding date and were not yet living together.[1] Grandparents "had a heated conversation with" Father about his termination petition, and subsequently, he put Child in full-time daycare and did not permit Grandparents to see Child as often.

         ¶7 At Mother's termination trial in December 2017, her former criminal attorney expressed his belief that Mother's criminal actions had been "very much influenced by" her co-defendant but that she "was a model defendant"; continually showed concern for her family and a desire to take care of her children;[2] had come to understand, through participation in counseling, her responsibilities and the detrimental effects of her co-dependent relationship with her co-defendant; and ultimately told the truth about the criminal incidents even though her co-defendant was damaged by her admissions. Mother was still incarcerated at the time of the termination trial but was due to be released in April 2019. She had been participating in a voluntary drug-treatment program. She testified that prior to Child's removal, she was his "sole care provider." She testified that she has a bond with Child, that she has had regular telephone and video calls with him since losing custody and sends him letters, that Child had expressed his desire to be reunited with Mother, and that she wants to have "visitation as much as possible" and to "be in ...


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