1. Involuntary termination of parental rights requires both the existence of at least one statutory ground for termination listed in Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b) (2002), and a finding that termination is in the child's best interests.
2. District court did not err in finding that statutory grounds for termination existed under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b) (1), (5), and (8) (2002).
3. District court's conclusion that termination of parental rights was in the children's best interests was not erroneous.
4. District court was not required to consider long-term foster care as an alternative placement option in determining best interests of the children in light of statutory preference for permanent placement with a relative or termination of parental rights and adoption over long-term foster care for children who cannot be returned to their parents.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Blatz, Chief Justice.
Concurring Specially, Page, J.
Considered and decided by the court en banc without oral argument.
Following a contested hearing, the district court terminated appellant R.W.'s*fn1 parental rights to two children he had by K.K. based on findings that (1) appellant had abandoned the children; (2) appellant had substantially, continuously or repeatedly neglected to comply with the duties imposed upon him by the parent and child relationship; (3) reasonable efforts had failed to correct the conditions leading to the out-of-home placement; and (4) the children were neglected and in foster care. See Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(1)-(2), (5), (8) (2002). The district court also found that termination was in the best interests of the children. The court of appeals rejected the district court's findings of fact and concluded that no statutory grounds for termination existed, but affirmed termination of appellant's parental rights on the ground that termination was in the best interests of the children. We conclude that the court of appeals erred in affirming termination based solely on the best interests of the children but nonetheless affirm the termination of appellant's parental rights because we conclude that the district court's order terminating parental rights was based on clear and convincing evidence that statutory grounds for termination were met and that termination is in the best interests of the children.
Appellant and K.K. are the biological parents of J.L.W., born on May 20, 1996, and A.A.W., born on November 5, 1997. Appellant and K.K. never married, but appellant lived with K.K. until March 1999, at which time K.K. asked appellant to move out. While appellant lived with K.K., both he and K.K. provided only marginal care for the children. After moving out, appellant visited the children weekly and often stayed overnight at K.K.'s home. Appellant, who was on probation for selling methamphetamine, knew that K.K. used methamphetamine but he did not consider K.K.'s drug use to be a problem and had no concerns about the children being left in K.K.'s care.
On April 6, 2000, appellant was arrested on a burglary charge and for violating the terms of probation. He is currently incarcerated in Appleton, Minnesota, and his earliest possible release date is in October 2005.
Initially, K.K. wrote letters to appellant in an attempt to reunite with him. However, K.K. stopped corresponding with appellant in December 2001 after appellant made it clear that their relationship was over. Appellant never sent cards or letters to A.A.W. or J.L.W. directly, and he never provided any gifts or financial assistance to the children. Any contact appellant had with the children was indirect through his correspondence with K.K.
In October 2001, Sherburne County Social Services (county) filed a child in need of protection or services (CHIPS) petition alleging that the children were in need of protection based on K.K.'s use of methamphetamine and evidence that K.K. had left the children at her home without heat for four days under the supervision of a babysitter. At the time the CHIPS petition was filed, A.A.W. and J.L.W. were ages 5 and 3, respectively. Pursuant to court order, the children were placed in foster care.
Appellant learned of the CHIPS petition from K.K. in October 2001, and he received formal notice of the petition on or about November 1, 2001. The notice informed appellant that he had the right to participate in the decision-making process affecting the future of his children and included a card with a toll-free number for the county that he could call for that purpose. Accompanying the petition was a request by the county for background information on the children. Appellant did not respond to the petition, provide information requested by the county regarding Indian heritage, or otherwise contact the county. Instead, appellant decided to rely on K.K. to comply with her case plan in order to have the children returned to her. Appellant did not request information on how to contact his children in foster care, nor did he ever make any attempt to have contact with them.
On March 26, 2002, a county social worker sent a form to appellant asking appellant to agree to voluntary termination of his parental rights. This request was made based on representations by the children's mother that appellant had not been involved with the children for more than two years and on the fact that appellant had not contacted the ...