Issues on Appeal:
Ms. Williams appealed the family court's order terminating her parental rights.
The Court of Appeals reserved the family court order terminating Ms. Williams parental rights and remanded the matter for a new permanency planning hearing, holding the TPR was not in the minor child's best interests.
The family court terminated Ms. Williams' parental rights based on what it determined to be clear and convincing evidence of the following: “(1) Child was removed from the home, and Mother failed to remedy the conditions causing removal; (2) Mother had a diagnosable condition of mood disorder not otherwise specified that was unlikely to change within a reasonable period of time and that made it unlikely Mother could provide minimally acceptable care for Child; and (3) Child was in foster care for fifteen of the previous twenty-two months.” See Williams, Shearouse Adv. St. No. 19 at 72. The family court also held “…found TPR was in the Child's best interests and ordered TPR as to Mother…,” determining “… Child's permanent plan would be TPR and adoption concurrent with Father…” Id.
Although DSS presented clear and convincing evidence meeting the statutory requirements for TPR (e.g., Ms. Williams' failure to properly complete the recommended mental health treatment), the COA held the TPR not to be in the best interest of the minor child:
“[a]t present, it does not appear Child will ever be able to return to Mother's home because Mother has not adequately treated her mental conditions. However, we find TPR has no benefit at this time. During oral argument, DSS conceded the current permanent plan was reunification with Father. Terminating Mother's parental rights while continuing to explore placement with Father does not improve Child's future. As long as Father retains parental rights, Child is not free for adoption. See § 63-7-2510 (noting the purpose of TPR statutes is to “protect the health and welfare of [abused, neglected, or abandoned] children and make them eligible for adoption”). If reunification with Father is not ultimately an option and DSS decides to pursue adoption, it will first need to terminate Father's parental rights. If so, it can revisit whether terminating Mother's rights is in Child's best interest at that time. For now, TPR is premature because no viable plan gives Child the family she desperately craves. To deprive her of her own family and give her nothing in return is not in her best interest.” Id. at 74.
The COA further held: “… Child has a meaningful bond with Mother and her biological family … [t]hus, it may be beneficial for Child to maintain a relationship with Mother and her maternal biological family.” Id. at 74-75.
Finally, the COA held that “[d]uring oral argument, DSS stated Child currently lives in a therapeutic foster home, attends a self-contained class in a public school, and has not had any significant behavioral problems recently. The GAL stated Child is “the best emotionally” she has seen her in years. DSS stated it recently reengaged Mother in Child's treatment and began allowing Child visitation with Mother. We are encouraged by Child's recent progress and cognizant DSS has allowed Mother to continue to play a role in Child's life. Based on the foregoing, we do not believe clear and convincing evidence shows TPR is in Child's best interest.”Id.
For these reasons, the COA reversed and remanded the matter for a new permanency planning hearing; and, as a result, did not address Mother's remaining issues on appeal.
A copy of the Court of Appeal's opinion in South Carolina Dep't of Social Services v. Williams can be found here.
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