In the Matter of BJTH and BHTH, 2015 MT 6 (Jan. 6, 2015) (McKinnon, J.) (5-0, aff’d)
Issue: (1) Whether substantial evidence supports the district court’s finding that Mother received counseling prior to relinquishing her parental rights; and (2) whether the counselor produced a written report in compliance with § 42-2-409, MCA.
Short Answer: (1) Yes, and (2) yes.
Facts: Mother gave birth to twins BHTH and BJTH in July 2009. In September 2012, her parental rights were terminated after the district court found she had executed a knowing, voluntary relinquishment of her rights after receiving counseling. She appealed, and this Court affirmed two issues but remanded for a determination of whether Mother had received the required counseling or whether good cause existed to waive the requirement.
Procedural Posture & Holding: The district court held a hearing in January 2014, at which the DPHHS specialist who provided counseling to Mother testified. The court concluded Mother received between 3 hours – 3 hours and 15 minutes of counseling, meeting the three-hour minimum requirement. The counselor filled out certain forms, and later supplemented her documentation following this Court’s remand. The district court found Mother received the required counseling, and that the counselor’s report complied with the statute. Mother appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.
Reasoning: (1) Substantial evidence supports the district court’s finding that the minimum three hours of counseling was provided.
(2) Although the counselor’s letter prepared 18 months after the fact does not comply with the statute, its deficiency should not override the best interests of the children. DPHHS was granted temporary custody of the twins over 3 years ago, when they were less than 2 years old. The evidence suggests Mother’s relinquishment was knowing and voluntary. A deficiency in a reporting requirement is not enough to set aside an otherwise valid relinquishment.