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In re Welfare of the Child of W.L.P.

May 4, 2004

IN THE MATTER OF THE WELFARE OF THE CHILD OF: W.L.P. AND T.J.S., PARENTS.


Anoka County District Court File No. J0-03-51299

Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge; Anderson, Judge; and Stoneburner, Judge.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Admitting to the allegations in a petition to terminate parental rights does not convert the proceeding into a voluntary termination of parental rights. To voluntarily terminate parental rights the parent must affirmatively demonstrate a desire to terminate the parent-child relationship for good cause.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hudson, Judge

Affirmed

OPINION

Appellants, W.L.P. and T.J.S., appeal from an order terminating their parental rights to M.D.D.P. The trial court found that both parties had previously had their parental rights to other children involuntarily terminated, and therefore, W.L.P. and T.J.S. are statutorily presumed to be palpably unfit to parent. Further, the trial court found that W.L.P. and T.J.S. failed to rebut the presumption of unfitness, and it is in the best interests of M.D.D.P. to terminate their parental rights. On appeal, W.L.P. argues that the trial court erred by concluding that: (1) she did not rebut the presumption of palpable unfitness; and (2) it is in the best interests of M.D.D.P. to terminate her parental rights. T.J.S. argues that Ramsey County did not previously involuntarily terminate his parental rights to another child (C.M.S.); rather he voluntarily terminated his parental rights. Accordingly, T.J.S. argues that the trial court erred in applying the statutory presumption that he is palpably unfit to parent. Because we conclude that the trial court was correct in presuming both parties palpably unfit to parent and neither party rebutted this presumption, we affirm.

FACTS

This is a consolidated appeal challenging the termination of W.L.P.'s and T.J.S.'s parental rights to their son, M.D.D.P. The termination proceedings were heard based on a petition by an Anoka County social worker. The trial court ordered the termination of W.L.P.'s and T.J.S.'s parental rights.

W.L.P. is the mother of M.D.D.P. and T.J.S. is the putative father. W.L.P. is also the biological mother of six other children: A.K.P., born October 13, 1980; J.L.P. and J.L.P., born October 21, 1985 (twins); S.L.P., born May 4, 1989; B.A.P., born January 27, 1991; and C.M.S., born June 15, 1995. Ramsey County has involuntarily terminated W.L.P.'s parental rights to each of these children. T.J.S. is the father of three children. His parental rights to C.M.S. were terminated based on his admission to a petition to terminate those rights. The trial court concluded that the termination was involuntary, but T.J.S. argues that because he admitted the petition, termination was voluntary.

On March 1, 1990, Ramsey County filed a petition to terminate W.L.P.'s parental rights to four of her children. The oldest three children were placed in Ramsey County's custody in 1987 while W.L.P. was serving a 13-month prison sentence for selling illegal substances. The youngest child at that time, S.L.P., was adjudicated a child in need of services when she tested positive for amphetamines at birth. When W.L.P's children were initially taken in 1987, Ramsey County developed a case plan for W.L.P. that included chemical dependency treatment. Between February 1988 and November 1989, W.L.P. participated in six chemical dependency programs: (1) she completed outpatient treatment at St. Joseph's Hospital; (2) she attended the Genesis program from which she was discharged for failure to attend and tardiness; (3) she was re-admitted to the Genesis program and was again discharged for unexcused absences; (4) she completed outpatient treatment at St. Paul Ramsey Hospital; (5) she was re-admitted to the Genesis program for a third time and was subsequently terminated when she admitted to smoking marijuana and tested positive for cocaine; and (6) she attended a day treatment program at Ramsey County Medical Center that she did not complete. On May 21, 1990, W.L.P. failed to appear for a pretrial hearing on the termination of her parental rights. The court found her in default and terminated her parental rights to her first four children: A.K.P., J.L.P., J.L.P., and S.L.P.

On June 22, 2001, Ramsey County filed a petition to terminate W.L.P.'s parental rights to B.A.P. and C.M.S. The petition alleged that five factors supported termination: (1) substantial, continuous, or repeated failure to comply with the duties imposed by the parent-child relationship; (2) palpable unfitness to parent; (3) failure to correct the conditions leading to out-of-home placement after being given reasonable services; (4) that the children were neglected and in foster care; and (5) that it was in the best interests of the children to terminate parental rights. Additionally, the petition alleged that five factors supported termination of T.J.S.'s parental rights to C.M.S.: (1) palpable unfitness to parent; (2) failure to correct the conditions leading to out-of-home placement after being given reasonable services; (3) that the child was neglected and in foster care; (4) that he was not entitled to notice of an adoption having failed to register with the putative fathers' adoption agency; and (5) that it was in the best interests of the child to terminate parental rights.

On November 13, 2001, W.L.P. failed to attend the pretrial hearing on this petition and the district court found W.L.P. in default. Accordingly, all the allegations in the petition were deemed to be true and the court terminated W.L.P.'s parental rights to B.A.P. and C.M.S.

On December 7, 2001, T.J.S. waived his right to trial and admitted that all of the allegations contained in the petition to terminate his parental rights to C.M.S. were true. The parties executed a settlement agreement, and the trial court stayed the termination of T.J.S.'s parental rights for 90 days on the condition that he comply with the terms of the settlement agreement. T.J.S. failed to meet the conditions of the stay and on February 19, 2002, the trial court vacated its order staying execution of the termination of parental rights and terminated T.J.S.'s parental rights to C.M.S.

Termination of Parental Rights to M.D.D.P.

a. Testimony concerning W.L.P.

W.L.P. stipulated that she previously had her parental rights to six children involuntarily terminated. W.L.P. admitted that she has abused chemical substances for 30 years, that she started drinking at age 8, and that she started using methamphetamines at age 21.

In December 2002, W.L.P. told T.J.S. that she was pregnant. T.J.S. did not register with the father's adoption registry either prior to, or after, M.D.D.P.'s birth. T.J.S. in no other way established that he is M.D.D.P.'s biological father. On April 17, 2003, W.L.P. voluntarily admitted herself to the Chemical Dependency Unit at Unity Hospital. W.L.P. told the hospital staff that she was 37 weeks pregnant. She was tested for drugs and her positive test was inconsistent with her statements concerning when she had last used methamphetamine. On April 22, 2003, W.L.P. met with Katey Zeleny, an Anoka County social worker. W.L.P. admitted that she had used methamphetamines a ...


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