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Where court misapplied test by conflating mother's interests with child's best interests, court erred in not terminating mother's parental rights

The court held the trial court clearly erred in finding that termination of both respondents-parents' parental rights was not in the child's best interests. Thus, it reversed the trial court's order denying the guardian's petition to terminate their parental rights under § (3)(f), and remanded for entry of an order terminating their parental rights. The child appealed the trial court's decision. The trial court clearly erred in finding that petitioner failed to show by a preponderance of the evidence that termination of respondent-mother's parental rights was in the child's best interests. It misapplied the test as a matter of law by conflating the mother's interests with the child's best interests. Her "good-faith desire to regain custody" was "relevant to the child's best interests. However, standing alone," it spoke "far more to her own interests than those of the child." By focusing exclusively on the mother's desire for another chance, the trial court "failed to consider the overwhelming evidence" that termination was in the child's best interests. "Such evidence went well beyond that necessary to conclude that termination was in the child's best interests." The mother had "little if any relationship with the child as she had not had any contact with him for almost two years." The child had lived in a stable relationship with his foster family for more than three years, since approximately four months of age. He viewed petitioner and her children as his mother and siblings. Petitioner wanted to adopt him to make him a permanent part of her family. The child's best interests clearly favored the "continuation of this already established familial relationship, and termination was necessary to provide the child with this continued stability and the permanency and finality that adoption would bring." The court was left with a firm conviction that the trial court made a mistake as to the best-interests evaluation by focusing on the mother's interests rather than those of the child. Further, "given the overwhelming nature of the evidence," it found that a remand to allow the trial court to review the case in this light was unnecessary and, in the interests of judicial economy and finality for the child, held that termination was in the child's best interests. As to the respondent-father, the evidence as to best interests was even more compelling. It showed that he had "no relationship with the child whatsoever and did not appear to oppose termination of his parental rights." The trial court stated that the only reason it did not terminate his parental rights was because it did not terminate the mother's parental rights, a decision the court reversed. Even if it had not done so, it would not justify preserving the father's parental rights. "The law is clear 'that the parental rights of one parent may be terminated without the termination of the parental rights of the other parent . . . .'"

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