Submitted: November 28, 2018
Circuit Court-Concord Family Division
Petitioner, the mother of H.J., self-represented party, by
Law Office of Gary Paradis, PLLC, of Manchester
(Gary Paradis by brief), for the father.
respondent, the father of H.J. (child), appeals an order of
the Circuit Court (Tenney, J.) terminating his
parental rights. See RSA 170-C:5 (2014). He argues
that the evidence does not support the circuit court's
findings that: (1) he had abandoned the child; (2) he had not
paid sufficient support; and (3) termination of his parental
rights was in the child's best interest. We affirm.
record supports the following facts. Approximately one month
after the child was born, the father was incarcerated. After
the father was released, the child lived with both parents.
In February 2009, the mother moved out after an incident of
domestic violence. From June 2009 through September 2010, a
domestic violence order was in place against the father. In
April 2009, the mother filed a parenting petition. The father
did not appear at any of the hearings in the parenting case.
In December 2009, the mother was granted sole legal and
physical custody of H.J. The parenting plan granted the
father supervised visitation once a week at his expense, but
gave the mother discretion to refuse such visits. The plan
stated that the father "may petition the court for
further orders" at such time that "he believes that
he can be a positive and consistent influence in [the
father visited H.J. twice at a visitation center in February
and March of 2010. On March 20, 2010, he failed to appear for
a scheduled visit. Around this time, he was incarcerated.
When he was released in early 2011, he contacted the
visitation center requesting to visit H.J. The mother
exercised the discretion granted to her by the parenting plan
and denied his request. She expressed concern that visitation
would be emotionally disruptive to the child because the
father's frequent incarcerations would not allow him to
become a consistent part of the child's life. The father
appears to have done nothing at this time to challenge the
mother's decision. The father was re-incarcerated in
2013, while still incarcerated, the father filed petitions
requesting a change to the parenting plan. The court denied
the petitions, observing that the father was incarcerated and
"not in a position to exercise his parenting time . . .
because of his circumstances." The court noted that
"[a]t such time as he is released, [the father] can
contact the [visitation center], who can then contact [the
father was released from incarceration in January 2014. He
testified at the hearing on the termination of his parental
rights that he "probably" contacted the visitation
center at that time, but did not "remember
exactly." He also testified that he did not file any
additional petitions with the court seeking visitation
because he was "dealing with these legal issues,"
had limited transportation, and "had a lot on [his]
plate." At some point in 2015 the father was
re-incarcerated. In early 2016, he was released.
Approximately a year later, in February of 2017, he was
October of 2017, the mother filed a petition seeking
termination of the father's parental rights on the
grounds of abandonment and non-support. At the hearing on the
petition, the mother requested that the court terminate the
father's parental rights over H.J. so that her husband,
who "has been an active and constant part of
[H.J.'s] life since 2010," could adopt H.J. She
testified that, since July 21, 2009, she has only received
$458.70 in child support and that her child support case was
closed in 2014. She acknowledged that the father has
occasionally sent correspondence to H.J. including "a
bunch of cards in 2010," a Toys"R"Us gift
card, two letters in 2016, and a birthday card in 2017. She
testified that she shared these communications with H.J. and
has saved them.
father testified that, although he has been in jail for four
of the last eight years, he never intended to abandon the
child. He also testified that he had "never been given
the opportunity to be a father to [his child] . . . and it
hasn't been for a lack of trying."
guardian ad litem (GAL) submitted a final report recommending
that the court terminate the father's parental rights. At
the hearing, the GAL testified that even though the father
may not have desired to abandon the child, there has
"been a substantial period of time since there has been
any contact," and the father's "personal
actions, his inability to stay out of criminal mischief . . .
effectuated the abandonment." The GAL further testified
that termination was in the child's best interest because
the mother's husband was the child's "father
figure," provided "day-to-day support and emotional
support," and wished to adopt H.J. The GAL recognized
that the mother had exercised her right to deny visitation in
2011, which prevented the child from having contact with the
father on that occasion, but concluded that the lack of a
relationship between the child and the father was due to the
father's consistent "renewal of [his] criminal
termination order, the court found that the father had
abandoned the child. See RSA 170-C:5, I. It also
concluded that the father failed to provide adequate support.
See RSA 170-C:5, II (stating that if "parents
are financially able," but "have substantially and
continuously neglected to provide the child with necessary
subsistence, education or other care," then a statutory
ground exists to terminate parental rights). The court also
determined that ...