In the Matter of JAB and LMF

In the Matter of JAB and LMF, 2015 MT 28 (Jan. 27, 2015) (McKinnon, J.) (7-0, aff’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court abused its discretion in terminating Mother’s parental rights to LMF; and (2) whether the district court abused its discretion in terminating Mother’s and Father’s parental rights to JAB without requiring reunification services.

Short Answer: (1) No, and (2) no.

Affirmed

Facts: Mother is the birth mother of LMF, born in 2008, and JAB, born in 2012. Father is the birth father of JAB. Mother and Father struggle with methamphetamine addiction. In 2009, DPHHS removed LMF from Mother’s care based on allegations she was caring for LMF while under the influence of meth. LMF was placed with her paternal grandparents, who have cared for her most of the past five years.

JAB was born in February 2012. Mother and Father agreed to a voluntary protective services agreement, but Mother failed to complete drug testing as required.

Mother tested positive for meth in June 2013, and both children were placed in foster care with LMF’s paternal grandparents. A hair test on JAB was positive for amphetamine and meth at levels significantly higher than Mother’s.

Procedural Posture & Holding: The Department petitioned to terminate Mother’s and Father’s parental rights. Although there was extensive testimony about Mother’s and Father’s ability to be loving parents, there was also evidence of her continual relapses. The district court terminated both parents’ rights to JAB, and terminated Mother’s rights to LMF. The court held reunification services were not required for JAB because Mother and Father had exposed LMF to chronic and severe neglect, and exposed JAB to meth. Mother and Father appeal, and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: (1) The record as a whole supports the district court’s findings that Mother did not fully comply with her treatment plan’s requirements of chemical dependency treatment, random urine analysis, and individual counseling. The district court’s finding that Mother failed to maintain a safe and stable lifestyle is not clearly erroneous. Mother was unable to maintain unsupervised visitation after years of DPHHS involvement.

DPHHS provided more than 762 hours of service to the family over four years. Mother did not begin to make progress until the Department moved for termination. LMF’s need for permanency must be considered. The district court’s finding that Mother’s condition was unlikely to change within a reasonable time was not clearly erroneous.

(2) The evidence shows that Mother and Father continued to periodically use meth while the children were in the home, which is sufficient to substantiate a finding of chronic and severe neglect of LMF. The district court’s finding of aggravated circumstances is affirmed.