Before Bridges, C.j., Payne, And Southwick, JJ.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bridges, C.j.
DATE OF JUDGMENT: 08/05/1997
TRIAL JUDGE: HON. SARAH P. SPRINGER
COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: CLARKE COUNTY CHANCERY COURT
NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - ADOPTION
TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: TERMINATED PARENTAL RIGHTS
¶1. This is an appeal from a judgment entered in the Chancery Court of Clarke County terminating the parental rights of the natural mother, W.D.H., to two minor children, J.D.H. and R.D.H., and granting the adoption of the children by T.H. and S.H. No appeal is taken as to the termination of the parental rights of the natural father. The natural mother has perfected this appeal, in which she attacks the jurisdiction of the chancellor to consider the adoption petition on allegedly procedural deficiencies. After thorough consideration of the issues raised, we affirm.
¶2. The following facts were gleaned by the chancellor after fourteen days of testimony and sixteen witnesses:
¶3. On June 4, 1992, the Department of Health Services (DHS) first became involved with J.D.H. and R.D.H., when witnesses reported the minor children were severely neglected by their natural mother, W.D.H., due to the deplorable conditions in which the children were living. The children were nineteen months old and eight months old. The initial plan of DHS was to restore the children to W.D.H. To meet its goal, a service agreement was developed by DHS and agreed to by W.D.H. in which W.D.H. would attend parenting classes addressing issues such as cleanliness, nutrition, budgeting, and discipline. W.D.H. failed to fulfil the service agreement.
¶4. Finding no improvement after monitoring W.D.H. for a month, DHS changed its plan to relative placement. DHS referred the case to the Newton County Youth Court which adjudicated the minor children severely neglected. The youth court placed legal custody of the minor children with DHS and physical custody of the children with the maternal grandmother. DHS continued its efforts to rehabilitate W.D.H. so she could be reunited with her children.
¶5. The placement of the children with the grandmother went well at first, but deteriorated when W.D.H. moved into her mother's house. In December1993, the conditions in the grandmother's house were so abysmal the children were placed in an emergency shelter. No other suitable relative was found to care for the children. DHS changed its plan to return the children to a parent.
¶6. After a year and a half of supervision by DHS, there was no improvement in the minor children's situation. In fact, the situation had worsen. Shortly after being placed in the emergency shelter, it was determined the children had been sexually abused while in the grandmother's physical custody.
¶7. The minor children, three and two years old, were moved to a foster home in Jasper County, and then to the foster home of R.W.M., who was experienced in dealing with the special needs of sexually abused children.
¶8. J.D.H. and R.D.H. were placed in the home of T.H. and S.H. in March 1994. In June 1994, J.D.H. was returned to R.W.M.'s home to separate the children due to J.D.H. sexually acting out on R.D.H. R.D.H. remained with T.H. and S.H.
¶9. In July 1994, the Newton County Youth Court determined the minor children should be reunited and placed R.D.H. with J.D.H. in the home of R.W.M.
¶10. Despite the continued efforts of DHS to rehabilitate W.D.H., DHS determined that to return the children to a parent was no longer a viable option based on W.D.H.'s acknowledgment that she was unable to care for her children. DHS's final plan for J.D.H. and R.D.H. was changed to long term foster care in anticipation of a time when the children would be old enough to have more contact with their mother without the risk of their being hurt.
¶11. In August 1995, T.H. and S.H. were awarded physical custody of the children by the youth court.In January 1997, the youth court awarded T.H. and S.H. legal custody of the children. W.D.H. has exercised her visitation rights seeing the children twice a month for three hours per visit while the children have been placed in the home of T.H. and S.H.
¶12. In December 1995, R.W.M. filed a complaint for adoption of the two minor children in the Chancery Court of Clarke County, the county of residence of R.W.M. W.D.H. joined in the complaint requesting her parental rights be terminated to enable R.W.M. to adopt J.D.H. and R.D.H. Because T.H. and S.H. had physical custody of the children, they were named as defendants.
¶13. T.H. and S.H. requested the adoption action be transferred to the Chancery Court of Newton County, which had had jurisdiction over the children for over three years, or to the Chancery Court of Smith County, the county in which the children were physically located. The chancellor denied the motion for ...