R.V. AND M.V., LEGAL GUARDIANS AND NEXT FRIENDS OF THE MINOR CHILDREN NAMED HEREIN APPELLEES
OF JUDGMENT: 12/16/2016
HARRISON COUNTY CHANCERY COURT, FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT HON.
SANFORD R. STECKLER TRIAL JUDGE
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: REED STANTON BENNETT
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEES: GRADY MORGAN HOLDER
CARLTON, P.J., GREENLEE AND McCARTY, JJ.
This child-custody appeal arises from a decision terminating
A.B.'s parental rights. This Court, having fully
considered the parties' briefs, the record, and the
applicable law, affirms the Harrison County Chancery
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
There is little dispute as to the facts in this case, as sad
as they are. A.B. and her partner, J.B., were married and had
three children. This appeal concerns the termination of
A.B.'s parental rights as to her two youngest children,
Emma and Jacob, as their natural mother. Our review begins
with the evidence concerning A.B.'s life.
At twelve years of age, A.B. started using illicit drugs.
Throughout her adolescence and early adulthood, her substance
abuse amplified and eventually included heroin, cocaine,
methamphetamine, benzodiazepines, and alcohol. Due to her
drug addictions and violent behavior, A.B.'s parents
evicted her from their home when she was eighteen years old.
Since then, A.B. married twice, experienced eight
pregnancies, and was arrested four times.
A.B. had a daughter during her first marriage. But in 1999,
she lost custody of the child to her parents. A year after
losing custody, A.B. and her first husband, David, were
involved in a serious car accident while A.B. was pregnant.
It is unclear who was driving the vehicle, but both A.B. and
David were severely intoxicated. The accident killed David
and the unborn child.
In 2005, A.B. met J.B. At that time, both A.B. and J.B. were
addicted to drugs and alcohol. A short time later, the couple
married and proceeded to have three children. The
couple's first child reportedly died from Sudden Infant
Death Syndrome (SIDS). Their second child, Emma, was born in
2008. Their third child, Jacob, was born in 2010. During each
of her pregnancies, A.B. admitted to drinking excessively and
breastfeeding while intoxicated.
A.B. and J.B. struggled to take care of their children. For
example, A.B. frequently used drugs and alcohol around the
children. On several occasions, Emma and Jacob found A.B.
unresponsive, leaving the children unsupervised and dirty. At
times, Emma would escape from the house and not be discovered
until later. The guardian ad litem (GAL) testified that
A.B.'s conduct would have resulted in "aggravated
circumstances" had the matter been initiated in a youth
In 2012, A.B. was arrested for driving under the influence
with Emma and Jacob in the car. A year later, the
children's aunt Melissa filed a Petition to Establish
General Guardianship over Emma and Jacob. Melissa also filed
an ex parte petition seeking temporary relief, which was
granted. At the guardianship hearing, A.B. conceded that she
should no longer have custody of the children, but she lied
about her drug and alcohol abuse. The court appointed Melissa
as their guardian.
From October 2013 to January 2014, A.B. and J.B. attended the
Homes of Grace treatment program for their addictions. While
in treatment, A.B. managed to visit with Emma and Jacob on
two separate occasions. But A.B.'s sobriety did not last
long. In March, she and J.B. relapsed. That same month, Emma
and Jacob met R.V. and M.V. Instantly, R.V. and M.V. desired
to adopt Emma and Jacob, but they acquiesced to A.B.'s
mother's demand to not adopt.
On Easter 2014, A.B. and J.B. visited with Emma and Jacob at
daycare. This was A.B.'s last visit with the children. In
July 2014, A.B. and J.B. filed a Petition to Appoint a New
Guardian and allow visitation. They claimed they were drug
free, but they refused to submit to drug testing. The GAL
reported that it would be damaging to Emma and Jacob to
mention A.B. and J.B. in conversation.
Several months later, A.B. and J.B. consented to drug tests.
The results showed that both A.B. and J.B. tested positive
for methamphetamine, cocaine, benzodiazepine, suboxone, and
alcohol. After failing the drug test, A.B. was charged with
shoplifting, and she admitted to failing to appear in court.
A few weeks later, A.B. and J.B. were both arrested for
felony possession of a controlled substance.
In January 2015, A.B. enrolled in another rehabilitative
treatment program. Not long after that, Melissa, A.B.'s
mother, R.V., and M.V. filed a joint petition to appoint R.V.
and M.V. as guardians of the children. At the August 2015
hearing, A.B. appeared pro se and claimed she was sober. She
also moved ore tenus for visitation with the children. The
court directed A.B. to file a written pleading, but A.B.
In June 2016, R.V. and M.V. filed an Amended Petition to
Terminate A.B.'s Parental Rights. A.B. responded in
opposition. After the GAL's recommendation to terminate
parental rights, the chancery court found by clear and
convincing evidence that A.B.'s and J.B.'s parental
rights should be terminated and that future contacts between
A.B. and J.B. and the children were undesirable. In December
2016, A.B. filed for a motion for reconsideration. The motion
was denied in May 2017.
On appeal, A.B. now argues that the chancery court erred by
terminating her parental rights and that the chancellor's
"order lacks finding[s] of fact or conclusions of law
that tend to establish ground[s] for termination."
This Court is aware of the gravity of the outcome of this
case. A.B. has lost her fundamental right to be a parent.
See In re A.M.A., 986 So.2d 999, 1009 (¶22)
(Miss. Ct. App. 2007). But a parent's parental rights are
not absolute. Id. at 1009-10 (¶¶22-23). In
termination-of-parental-rights cases, appellate courts apply
"the manifest error/substantial credible evidence
test." S. N.C. v. J.R.D. Jr., 755 So.2d 1077,
1080 (¶7) (Miss. 2000). That test requires that as long
as there is credible proof to support the chancellor's
findings of fact by clear and convincing evidence, the
appellate court must affirm the decision. K.D.F. v.
J.L.H., 933 So.2d ...