Must There be a Pending Adoption for TPR to Proceed?

March 25, 2015 § 2 Comments

We discussed the TPR statute yesterday in the context of the MSSC’s holding in Chism v. Bright that the statutory prerequisites in MCA 93-15-103(1) must be met before the chancellor may proceed to consider the grounds for termination of parental rights.

The last of those prerequisites is

… when adoption is in the best interest of the child, taking into account whether the adoption is needed to secure a stable placement for the child and the strength of the child’s bonds to his natural parents and the effect of future contacts between them …

In the COA case Farthing v. McGee, decided February 17, 2015, the chancellor ruled in part in a TPR case that the statute required a pending adoption action in order for TPR to proceed. The COA disagreed. Judge Maxwell wrote for a unanimous court, with Judge James specially concurring:

 ¶20. We also note the chancellor believed a pending adoption petition was a prerequisite to considering grounds for termination. But while an apparent concern of the statute is when a parent’s rights may be terminated for a child to be adopted, there is no statutory mandate that an actual petition must be filed before termination is sought. See Miss. Code. Ann. § 93-15-103(1). Instead, our supreme court recently reemphasized the court must consider if “adoption is in the best interest of the child” as one of the three prerequisites to considering grounds for parental-rights termination. Chism v. Bright, 152 So. 3d 318, 323 (¶15) (Miss. 2014) (emphasis added). Our high court made no mention of the necessity for a pending adoption petition.

¶21. On remand, the chancellor shall consider the GAL’s report when addressing the prerequisites of section 93-15-103(1), as discussed and emphasized by the supreme court in Chism, 152 So. 3d at 323 (¶15). If those prerequisites are deemed met, the chancellor shall address the abandonment-related grounds raised in Kristen’s termination request. [Footnote omitted]

So, until the supremes speak further on this topic, the rule is that the trial court must take into account whether adoption is in the best interest of the child, but no adoption action needs to have been filed.

This is the first case of which I am aware in which the courts have looked at TPR through the prism of Chism ( I know, I did that on purpose). Judge Maxwell’s opinion specifically mentions the abandonment language of prerequisite 1, which I discussed yesterday. That’s comforting and lends a little more weight to the idea that TPR might not be as moribund as we thought.

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