What is Constructive Abandonment?
The Texas Family Code section allows involuntary termination of parental rights if clear and convincing evidence supports that a parent engaged in at least one of the twenty-one grounds for termination and termination is in the best interest of the child. See TEX. FAM. CODE § 161.001(b)(1)(A)-(U), (b)(2). A court will look at the parent’s ability to provide a safe environment for their children, the parent’s parental skills, and the best interest of the child when deciding whether or not to terminate parental rights based on constructive abandonment. Grounds for parental rights termination include constructive abandonment if the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the parent has:
constructively abandoned the child who has been in the permanent or temporary managing conservatorship of the Department of Family and Protective Services (“Department”) for not less than six months, and:
- the department has made reasonable efforts to return the child to the parent;
- he parent has not regularly visited or maintained significant contact with the child; and
- the parent has demonstrated an inability to provide the child with a safe environment;
In the case below, I discuss why a court rejected a Mother’s parental rights termination appeal and affirmed she constructively abandoned her children.
The Department’s Reasonable Efforts to Return the Children to Mother
Although Mother contends the evidence does not support a finding that she has not regularly visited or maintained contact with the children, the conservatorship worker assigned to her case contends she only visited the children a total of five times in a nine-month period. The worker also testified that the record contains no evidence for any of the Mother’s excuses for missing visitations. Courts have held evidence that a parent missing over 50% of her schedule is grounds for constructive abandonment. The Department placed her in a family services plan, she failed to meet the plan’s requirements.
Mother failed to provide a safe physical home environment
Courts have held that a parent’s inability to provide housing and stable employment serves as evidence of constructive abandonment. In re J.H.R., No. 05-01=00482-CV, 2002 WL 1129114, at 7* (Tex. App.–Dallas May 31, 2002, no pet.). Here, the Mother failed to prove stable housing for herself, did not provide alternative housing for her children, and never provided alternative placements for the children. There was no record of the Mother’s employment apart from the excuse of missing visitation due to work.
Vulnerabilities of the children
The vulnerabilities of the children played a role in the court’s decision to terminate the Mother’s parental rights. Both children were diagnosed with ADHD and exhibited behavioral problems that required therapy and medication. The youngest suffers from developmental delays and should attend a special needs school. The court found that the children needed a stable home and protection for their vulnerable conditions. The record also showed that the Mother’s failure to consistently visit with the children resulted in them exhibiting behavioral problems and depression.
The Mother’s History of Abusive conduct.
The Texas Family Code also considers whether there’s a history of abusive conduct by the child’s family. Here, Mother suffered bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, which required medication. The record shows that she failed to take her medication during the termination proceedings, the record also states that “she is able to get along and be rational with people instead of aggressive when she is on medication”. Her therapist testified that Mother threatened her therapist over frustrations with her treatment. Courts have found a parent’s mental state has a bearing on its decision to terminate parental rights.
Mother’s Parental Skills
Lastly, the court found that Mother also failed to demonstrate adequate parental skills. She never met therapy treatment goals, failed to follow through on plans, and ignored the children to use her phone during visitations. The Department has removed five of Mother’s six children from her care.
In the Interest of the Minor Children
A Mother of two appealed the termination of her parental rights to a ten-year-old and a seven-year-old. The Department removed the children from the mother due to her inability to provide the children with a safe environment, the vulnerabilities of the children, and the mother’s history of abusive conduct. The Mother was allowed supervised visitation during termination proceedings. However, following a trial bench, the trial judge found that Mother constructively abandoned her daughters and that termination of Mother’s parental rights was in the best interest of the children.