INTEREST OF J.W.

No. 06-20-00021-CV.

615 S.W.3d 453 (2020)

In the INTEREST OF J.W., a Child.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Texarkana.

Date Decided: September 25, 2020.

Rehearing Denied January 5, 2021.


Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Courtney Harris , Harris & Harris, Attorneys at Law, Longview, for Appellant.

Kellie Price , Office of General Counsel, TDFPS, Austin, for Appellee.

Before Morriss, C.J., Burgess and Stevens, JJ.


OPINION

The Department of Family and Protective Services (the Department) petitioned to terminate Mother's and J.W., Sr.'s (Husband's), parental rights to her child, J.W. The Department later nonsuited Husband when DNA testing established that he was not the child's father. Because Mother identified Appellant as a potential father, the Department amended its original petition to seek termination of Appellant's parental rights to J.W. On January 31, 2020, DNA testing established that Appellant was J.W.'s biological father. On February 3, 2020, the trial court adjudicated Appellant as J.W.'s father and issued its order, entitled Additional Temporary Order, directing Appellant to perform services, including that he "comply with each requirement set out in the Department's... service plan." On February 18, 2020, the Department's conservatorship worker met with Appellant to review the Department's service plan.

On March 4, 2020, twenty-nine days after the trial court issued its Additional Temporary Order and fifteen days after the Department met with Appellant to review its service plan, the trial court terminated Appellant's parental rights to J.W. for failing to comply with the service plan under Section 161.001(b)(1)(O) of the Texas Family Code, constructively abandoning J.W. under Section 161.001(b)(1)(N), and using a controlled substance in a manner that endangered J.W.'s health and safety and failing to complete a court-ordered substance abuse treatment program under Section 161.001(b)(1)(P). Appellant argues in this appeal that the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the trial court's findings that termination of his parental rights was merited under Section 161.001(b)(1), subsections (N), (O), and (P), of the Texas Family Code and that termination of his parental rights was in J.W.'s best interest.

Because the trial court did not provide Appellant with a reasonable time to comply with its Additional Temporary Order and because the Department did not provide Appellant with sufficient time to complete the service plan, the evidence is legally insufficient to support the trial court's findings that termination of Appellant's parental rights was merited under Section 161.001(b)(1), subsections (O) and (P), of the Texas Family Code. Likewise, the evidence is legally insufficient to support termination of Appellant's parental rights under subsection N to the extent the Department attempted to prove it made a reasonable attempt to return J.W. to Appellant based on implementation of its service plan. We further find that the evidence is legally insufficient to support subsection N's "reasonable effort to return" element to the extent termination is based on Appellant's failure to comply with court-ordered services and the Department's requests that he voluntarily perform services before he was adjudicated to be J.W.'s father.

However, we find that the evidence is legally sufficient to support termination of Appellant's parental rights under subsection N based on evidence suggesting Appellant impeded the Department's attempt to timely adjudicate his parentage. Nevertheless, we find that the evidence is factually insufficient to support termination under subsection N based on this reason. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment terminating Appellant's parental rights and remand this case to the trial court for a new trial.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

Mother gave birth to J.W. on September 15, 2018. At that time, she was married to Husband. The Department received an intake on the day of J.W.'s birth alleging that Mother used drugs during her pregnancy with J.W. and that Mother was residing in a domestic violence shelter because of violence between Mother and Husband. On September 24, 2018, the Department received umbilical cord blood test results for the newborn, J.W., showing that he tested positive for THC. The Department removed J.W. from Mother and instituted termination proceedings against Mother and Husband on September 24, 2018.

On May 6, 2019, genetic testing established that Husband was not J.W.'s biological father. The Department filed its motion to nonsuit Husband, and the trial court granted the motion on May 13, 2019. On that same day, the Department filed its Second Amended Petition for Protection of a Child, For Conservatorship, and for Termination in Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship, for the first time alleging that Appellant was J.W.'s father. Finally, on that day, citation was issued for Appellant, and counsel was appointed to represent Appellant at trial.

Despite numerous attempts, the Department was unable to effect service on Appellant. However, Appellant appeared at a status hearing on October 3, 2019. During that hearing, the trial court ordered Appellant to submit to genetic testing. Appellant submitted his DNA sample on December 20, 2019. On January 16, 2020, while the results of Appellant's DNA testing were pending, the trial court entered its Permanency Hearing Order Before Final Order ordering Appellant to "comply with service plan and court orders." The trial court also held that "[Appellant] ha[d] not demonstrated adequate and appropriate compliance with the service plan. Pending DNA." As of that time, no service plan had been issued to Appellant.

On January 21, 2020, the DNA test confirmed that Appellant was J.W.'s biological father. The trial court adjudicated parentage of Appellant on February 3, 2020, and ordered Appellant to undergo psychological evaluation, submit to random drug testing as required by the Department, complete a drug and alcohol dependency evaluation, and begin counseling and parenting classes. On that same day, the trial court issued its Additional Temporary Order requiring Appellant to:

• "[S]ubmit to and cooperate fully in the preparation of a court-ordered psychological or psychiatric evaluation[.]" • "[S]ubmit to and cooperate fully in the preparation of the court-ordered drug and alcohol dependency assessment," "follow the recommendations of the evaluation and ... refrain from substance abuse during the pendency of the case," and "submit to random drug testing within 24 hours of the Department's request[.]" • "[A]ttend and cooperate fully in counseling sessions to address the specific issues that led to the removal of the child from the home and to address any additional issues arising from the psychological examinations or from the counseling sessions ... [which] shall begin within 30 days of being notified of the counselor selected by the Department and shall continue until the counselor determines that no further sessions are necessary or until further order of this Court." • "[A]ttend, participate in and successfully complete parenting classes and... submit to the Department or file with the Court a certificate of completion of parenting classes taken with DR. DON WINSTED or any other Department approved parenting class provider." • "[C]omply with each requirement set out in the Department's original, or any amended, service plan during the pendency of this suit."

The Department filed a service plan with the trial court on February 10, 2020, and met with Appellant to go over that plan on February 18, 2020. That plan required Appellant to:

• "[O]btain and maintain stable ... employment to assist with providing for [J.W.]'s needs ... [and] notify Marquita Rowland[,] caseworker, weekly of his attempts to obtain employment and notify the caseworker within 72 hours if employment is obtained... [and] provide caseworker with paystubs to verify his employment." • "As a result of completing a parenting course through Dr. Winstead[ ] or an approved provider, [Appellant] must be able to convey information learned to the worker and demonstrate skills during parent/child visits. If [Appellant] is unable to successfully complete a course and demonstrate learned parenting skills, the course will be repeated until a full grasp of the knowledge has been demonstrated. [Appellant] will call the approved provider to enroll in the next available parenting course." • "[D]evelop a positive support system." • "If any needs are established for [Appellant] related to Intimate Partner Violence[,] [Appellant] will be referred to an appropriate resource." • [Appellant] will submit to random drug and alcohol screenings performed at TADTS within the same business day of notification. TADTS is located at [address] in Longview. If [Appellant] is not near this location[,] the Department will send [Appellant] to the nearest drug testing site. Worker will provide this new location upon request. [Appellant] will be available for random screenings by providing a work schedule and current address/contact number to the caseworker. [Appellant] is expected to drug test by the end of the business day of being sent to drug test. If [Appellant] refuses a random drug screening, the Department will count the refusal as non-compliance with the court[-]ordered service plan. [Appellant] should not alter his body in order to keep from having to take a hair follicle drug test." • "[Appellant] will participate in a psychological evaluation with Dr. Boynton or other approved provider. An appointment will be made by [Appellant]. [Appellant] will follow all recommendations made by the assessment." • "[Appellant] will attend and actively participate in twice monthly counseling with Dr. William Grant or an approved provider. Contact information for Dr. Grant or an approved provider will be given to [Appellant] by the caseworker. Twice monthly individual counseling will continue until the therapist conveys that all therapeutic goals have been reached and there are no further concerns of the ability to effectively parent. If [Appellant] need[s] to cancel or re-schedule, she [sic] will call the therapist office at least 24 hours in advance."

Appellant testified that he became frustrated and walked out of the February 18 meeting because the trial date was so close that he did not feel as if he had enough time to comply with the family service plan. Instead, he admitted to using marihuana and told the caseworker that he would not participate in services. As a result, the trial began without Appellant having initiated any attempt to comply with the family service plan.

Mother signed an affidavit of relinquishment of her parental rights to J.W. before trial. During trial, Mother testified that she told Appellant that he could be J.W.'s father when she became pregnant in February 2018 and that "it was between him and [Husband]." Mother also testified that she told Appellant that the baby was his in November 2019, after DNA tests showed that Husband was not J.W.'s biological father.

Appellant admitted that Mother informed him when she was pregnant that J.W. could be his child but added that he was not actually aware that he was the child's biological father until less than two months before trial. Appellant acknowledged that he met with the caseworker about his family service plan and understood what he had to do but told the caseworker that he was not going to perform services because he "was upset." Appellant testified that he regretted walking out of the February 18 meeting out of frustration, that he was willing to work through the service plan, that he had never harmed any of his children, and that he could either provide a safe and stable home for J.W. or could have his family considered as an alternate placement for her. He added that he was working at Republic, a "cabinet business," but had to stop working there two months before trial due to a back injury.

On cross-examination, Appellant admitted that he remembered the trial court telling him to "start services even though [he] did not know if [he] w[as], for sure, the father." However, he testified, "They never gave me no location, they never told me where, or where to take my drug test, where were the classes at, the address. Didn't nobody give me no information on nothing." At trial, the Department did not provide evidence of a written family service plan other than the one given to Appellant fifteen days before trial. However, Jacob Crater, a supervisor for Child Protective Services (CPA), testified that, when Appellant appeared at the October 3, 2019, hearing, he said he was willing to work a family service plan and therefore knew in October that he was going to work services if his DNA tests confirmed him to be J.W.'s biological father.

Appellant testified that he wanted J.W. to come home with him. He also testified that he had previously been incarcerated for burglary of a habitation after violating his community supervision by committing an assault and that he lived with his grandmother and his son in a three-bedroom home. Grandmother testified that she was a joint managing conservator of Appellant's five-year-old son and that Appellant was not a possessory conservator. Appellant, who had previously been through the CPS process, also had two other children who did not live with him, but assured the trial court that he would follow all court orders if he were allowed possession of and access to J.W. Even so, Appellant admitted to smoking marihuana "[l]ike every day" until a week before trial but swore that he did not smoke around his children or inside his grandmother's home. Grandmother testified that she had no knowledge of any drug use by Appellant, and Mother testified that Appellant's family members did not use marihuana.

Appellant said that he had provided his mother as a possible placement for J.W. and believed that the Department was considering that option. The following transcript summed up his response to the Department's petition:

[BY THE DEPARTMENT]: Now, you understand ... that CPS is asking the Court to terminate your parental rights, do you understand that? A. Yes, ma'am. Q. Okay. And I'm assuming, because you're here, that you don't want that to happen? A. I ain't the bad person. But, like, I understand, you know, I understand how everything work, but I ain't did anything wrong.... [BY THE DEPARTMENT]: I want to be clear what you're asking from this Court today. Are you asking this Court not to terminate your parental rights and place the child with you, or are you asking this Court to terminate your parental rights and place the child with your family? A. The second one. Basically, I ain't done nothing wrong. What [did] I do wrong?

CPS Caseworker Marquita Rowland agreed that Appellant was a non-offending parent, that the Department's goal was to reunify children with their biological parents, and that she had never evaluated Grandmother's home to see if it was an appropriate placement for J.W. And there was no mention of whether the Department had considered Appellant's mother's home as a possible placement for the child. However, Rowland did not believe that Appellant was an appropriate parent for J.W.

Rowland testified that she began her attempts to contact Appellant in May or June 2019 by sending him letters and leaving business cards at his residence. Appellant never responded to Rowland until he appeared in court. After his appearance at the October hearing, Rowland testified that she spoke to Appellant in November 2019, explained that he would have to complete a family service plan, and provided him with a contact to begin the plan. Rowland said, "I would just tell him to go and drug test, to get a baseline to see if we would even refer him to an alcohol and drug assessment, ... which he never did. And then I've also provided him with parenting classes to come to." Rowland said that she told Appellant that he could visit J.W. before the DNA test results came back but that Appellant wanted to wait for the results instead. After Appellant was confirmed to be J.W.'s biological father, Rowland informed Appellant that he had "up to two hours for visits" and asked him to provide his available dates and times.

Rowland met with Appellant and Grandmother in February 2020 to go over the family service plan. According to Rowland, when she asked Appellant to undergo a drug test, he admitted to using marihuana and left the office after refusing to work services. Appellant's admission of drug use concerned Rowland because, in her opinion, a parent using marihuana "would not be able to effectively watch the child or make the ... proper decisions with that child." Rowland was also concerned that Appellant did not have custody of any of his children and had been through CPS services before but had failed to apply what he had learned.

Tesa Wilson, a volunteer with East Texas Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), testified that J.W. was doing well in his foster home, where he played with his brothers and sisters. Rowland and Tesa testified that it was in J.W.'s best interest for Appellant's parental rights to be terminated. J.W.'s foster mother, Amanda Sherman, testified that she wanted to adopt J.W., who had lived with her for sixteen months. She added that J.W. was a happy baby, that J.W. had never seen Appellant, and that it was in J.W.'s best interest that his parental rights be terminated. After hearing the evidence, the trial court terminated Appellant's parental rights after finding that statutory grounds N, O, and P existed and that termination of the parent-child relationship was in J.W.'s best interests.

II. Is the Evidence Legally and Factually Sufficient to Support Termination Under Subsections N, O, and P?

A. Standard of Review

"The natural right existing between parents and their children is of constitutional dimensions." In re E.J.Z., 547 S.W.3d 339, 343 (Tex. App.-Texarkana 2018, no pet.) (quoting Holick v. Smith, 685 S.W.2d 18, 20 (Tex. 1985)). "Indeed, parents have a fundamental right to make decisions concerning `the care, custody, and control of their children.'" Id. (quoting Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 65, 120 S.Ct. 2054, 147 L.Ed.2d 49 (2000)). "Because the termination of parental rights implicates fundamental liberty interests, a higher standard of proof—clear and convincing evidence—is required at trial." Id. (quoting In re A.B., 437 S.W.3d 498, 502 (Tex. 2014)). "This Court is therefore required to `engage in an exacting review of the entire record to determine if the evidence is ... sufficient to support the termination of parental rights.'" Id. (quoting A.B., 437 S.W.3d at 500). "[I]nvoluntary termination statutes are strictly construed in favor of the parents." Id. (quoting In re S.K.A., 236 S.W.3d 875, 900 (Tex. App.-Texarkana 2007, pet. denied) (quoting Holick, 685 S.W.2d at 20)).

"In order to terminate parental rights, the trial court must find, by clear and convincing evidence, that the parent has engaged in at least one statutory ground for termination and that termination is in the child's best interest." Id. (citing TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. § 161.001; In re E.N.C., 384 S.W.3d 796, 798 (Tex. 2012)). "`Clear and convincing evidence' is that `degree of proof that will produce in the mind of the trier of fact a firm belief or conviction as to the truth of the allegations sought to be established.'" Id. (quoting TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. § 101.007) (citing In re J.O.A., 283 S.W.3d 336, 344 (Tex. 2009)). "This standard of proof necessarily affects our review of the evidence." Id.

"In our legal sufficiency review, we consider all the evidence in the light most favorable to the findings to determine whether the fact-finder reasonably could have formed a firm belief or conviction that the grounds for termination were proven." In re L.E.S., 471 S.W.3d 915, 920 (Tex. App.-Texarkana 2015, no pet.) (citing In re J.P.B., 180 S.W.3d 570, 573 (Tex. 2005) (per curiam); In re J.L.B., 349 S.W.3d 836, 846 (Tex. App.-Texarkana 2011, no pet.)). "We assume the trial court, acting as fact-finder, resolved disputed facts in favor of the finding, if a reasonable fact-finder could do so, and disregarded evidence that the fact-finder could have reasonably disbelieved or the credibility of which could be doubted." Id. (citing J.P.B., 180 S.W.3d at 573).

"In our review of factual sufficiency, we give due consideration to evidence the trial court could have reasonably found to be clear and convincing." Id. (citing In re H.R.M., 209 S.W.3d 105, 109 (Tex. 2006) (per curiam)). "We consider only that evidence the fact-finder reasonably could have found to be clear and convincing and determine `whether the evidence is such that a fact[-]finder could reasonably form a firm belief or conviction about the truth of the ... allegations.'" Id. (quoting H.R.M., 209 S.W.3d at 109) (quoting In re C.H., 89 S.W.3d 17, 25 (Tex. 2002)) (citing In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d 256, 264, 266 (Tex. 2002)). "If, in light of the entire record, the disputed evidence that a reasonable factfinder could not have credited in favor of the finding is so significant that a factfinder could not reasonably have formed a firm belief or conviction, then the evidence is factually insufficient." Id. (quoting J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d at 266). In our analysis, "we must undertake `an exacting review of the entire record with a healthy regard for the constitutional interests at stake.'" Id. (quoting In re A.B., 437 S.W.3d 498, 503 (Tex. 2014) (quoting C.H., 89 S.W.3d at 26)).

"Despite the profound constitutional interests at stake in a proceeding to terminate parental rights, `the rights of natural parents are not absolute; protection of the child is paramount.'" Id. (quoting In re A.V., 113 S.W.3d 355, 361 (Tex. 2003) (quoting In re J.W.T., 872 S.W.2d 189, 195 (Tex. 1994)) (citing In re M.S., 115 S.W.3d 534, 547 (Tex. 2003))). "A child's emotional and physical interests must not be sacrificed merely to preserve parental rights." Id. (quoting In re C.A.J., 459 S.W.3d 175, 179 (Tex. App.-Texarkana 2015, no pet.) (citing C.H., 89 S.W.3d at 26)).

B. Analysis of the Sufficiency of the Evidence to Establish Termination Under Subsections (O) and (P)

1. Introduction

Section 161.001 of the Texas Family Code provides,

(b) The court may order termination of the parent-child relationship if the court finds by clear and convincing evidence: (1) that the parent has: .... (O) failed to comply with the provisions of a court order that specifically established the actions necessary for the parent to obtain the return of the child who has been in the permanent or temporary managing conservatorship of the Department of Family and Protective Services for not less than nine months as a result of the child's removal from the parent under Chapter 262 for the abuse or neglect of the child; (P) used a controlled substance, as defined by Chapter 481, Health and Safety Code, in a manner that endangered the health or safety of the child, and: (i) failed to complete a court-ordered substance abuse treatment program....[1]

TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. § 161.001(b)(1).

Subsection O requires proof by clear and convincing evidence that the parent failed to comply with the trial court's order "that specifically established the actions necessary for the parent to return the child...." Id. Subsection P(i) requires clear and convincing evidence that the parent "failed to complete a court-ordered substance abuse treatment program." Id. While the court ordered both of those items in its Additional Temporary Order on February 3, 2020, it also ordered Appellant to comply with the Department's service plan. That plan contained the specific information Appellant needed to satisfy the trial court's Additional Temporary Order. Thus, for the Department to prevail under both subsections O and P, it was required to establish by clear and convincing evidence that the Appellant failed to comply with its service plan.

Subsection N, on the other hand, does not directly require compliance with the Department's service plan. Nevertheless, subsection N(i) does require proof by clear and convincing evidence that "the department has made reasonable efforts to return the child to the parent."2 And, courts have held that the Department can meet this burden by presenting evidence that it implemented "a family service plan." In re A.Q.W., 395 S.W.3d 285, 289 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2013, no pet.). Thus, while implementation of a service plan is not the exclusive means of establishing that the Department made a reasonable effort to return the child to a parent, implementation of a service plan is often the means by which the Department seeks to meet its burden to prove subsection N against a parent.

In A.Q.W., the court of appeals noted that, where the presentment of a service plan is offered to prove the Department "made reasonable efforts to return the child to the parent," it is not enough to merely show presentment; rather, the Department must also prove that "the parent has been given a reasonable opportunity to comply with the terms of the plan." Id. Given the fundamental liberty interests at stake in a parental-rights termination case, that reasoning also applies when the Department seeks to terminate based on a parent's failure to comply with a court order under subsection O or "fail[ure] to complete a court-ordered substance abuse treatment program" under subsection P. Specifically, in order to prove a parent's parental rights should be terminated under subsections O and P based on the parent's failure to comply with a trial court's orders, including orders to comply with the Department's service plan, the Department must also present clear and convincing evidence that the "parent was given a reasonable opportunity to comply with the terms of the plan" and the trial court's order. Id.

2. The Evidence Is Legally Insufficient to Support Termination of Appellant's Parental Rights Under Subsections O and P

The evidence is undisputed that the trial court issued its Additional Temporary Orders on February 3, 2020, that the Department first filed its service plan with the trial court on February 10, 2020, that the Department met with Appellant on February 18, 2020, to discuss its service plan, that the Department filed the signed service plan with the trial court on February 24, 2020, and that the final hearing was held on March 4, 2020. The February 18 meeting occurred fifteen days before the final hearing where the trial court terminated Appellant's parental rights to J.W. Given the nature of the service plan's terms in this case,3 fifteen days before trial was not a reasonable time in which Appellant could complete the plan. The fact that Appellant refused to comply with the plan at the February 18 meeting is immaterial because even if he had agreed to perform the plan's services, he could not possibly have completed them before the trial.4

Likewise, the trial court's Amended Temporary Order—which required Appellant to perform services in addition to the services identified in the service plan—was issued on February 3, 2020. This order was issued only twenty-nine days before the termination trial. For the same reason the Department cannot rely on Appellant's failure to comply with the service plan to support termination under subsections P and O, we hold that the Department cannot base termination of Appellant's parental rights under subsection O based on his failure to comply with the trial court's February 3, 2020, order. Given the nature of the services required in that order,5 twenty-nine days was insufficient time for Appellant to complete those services. Consequently, we find that the evidence is insufficient to support termination of Appellant's parental rights under subsections O and P.

C. Analysis of the Sufficiency of the Evidence to Justify Termination of Appellant's Parental Rights Under Subsection N

1. Introduction

As mentioned, the Department may prove that it made a reasonable effort to return the child to the parent by showing that it implemented a service plan where "the parent has been given a reasonable opportunity to comply with the terms of the plan." See A.Q.W., 395 S.W.3d at 289. For the same reason that the evidence was insufficient to support termination of Appellant's parental rights under subsections O and P, the evidence is insufficient to prove that the Department made a reasonable effort to return J.W. to Appellant based on the implementation of the service plan. Fifteen days is insufficient to prove that "the parent has been given a reasonable opportunity to comply with the terms of the plan." See id. Accordingly, the Department may not rely on Appellant's failure to complete the service plan to prove it made a reasonable effort to return J.W. to Appellant.

Nevertheless, as noted above, there are other ways for the Department to prove that it made a reasonable effort to return J.W. to appellant under subsection N. In this case, the record reveals two other possibilities: (1) evidence tending to show that Appellant failed to voluntarily comply with the trial court's orders and the Department's requests that he perform services in this case prior to adjudication of his parentage and (2) evidence tending to show that Appellant impeded the Department's attempts to timely adjudicate Appellant's parentage. Accordingly, we will now consider whether this other evidence is sufficient to support a finding that the Department made a reasonable effort to return J.W. to Appellant in order to terminate Appellant's parental rights under subsection N.

2. Summary of the Arguments and Other Evidence Offered by the Department to Establish that It Made Reasonable Efforts to Return J.W. to Appellant

The Department argues that Mother told Appellant he was possibly J.W.'s father when she became pregnant in February 2018, and in May 2019, when the DNA test results eliminated Husband as the father, Mother told Appellant he was the father.6 It points to testimony by Caseworker Rowland that she began looking for Appellant in May 2019 and that she went by his home in Marshall and sent letters in addition to the multiple times the Department attempted to serve Appellant. Rowland testified that she spoke to Appellant by phone in November 2019 and set up an in-person meeting, but that it did not take place. She testified that, even before Appellant submitted to paternity testing, she explained his services to him, told him to take a drug test to create a baseline for future drug tests, and provided him with parenting classes to attend. When Appellant said he could not attend classes in Longview, she found resources in Marshall. After the paternity tests confirmed that he was J.W.'s father, she let him know about visitation, but he never contacted her to set up visits.

The Department also points to the fact that the trial court orally ordered Appellant to undergo services the first time he appeared in court on October 3, 2019, and that, after that hearing, the Department's supervisor, Jacob Crater, talked to Appellant where Appellant said he was willing to work a family service plan, thereby establishing that he knew he was going to have to work services if DNA tests confirmed him to be J.W.'s father. Finally, it points to Appellant's testimony acknowledging these facts. The Department cites to four cases interpreting subsection N's requirement that it make a reasonable effort to return the child to the parent where the courts found that events occurring prior to the issuance of the service plan were sufficient to satisfy that burden. We discuss those cases in turn.

In In re K.J.T.M., we held that the Department made reasonable efforts to return the child to the father who was serving a twenty-year sentence in the Texas Youth Commission for armed robbery. In re K.J.T.M., No. 06-09-00104-CV, 2010 WL 1664027 (Tex. App.-Texarkana Apr. 26, 2010, no pet.) (mem. op.). We noted that the father received a visit from a Department caseworker, Lydia Nehls, while he was incarcerated; that Nehls was the caseworker responsible for developing the father's service plan; that a service plan was filed with the trial court eight months before trial without objection; and that other Department workers testified that Nehls had visited with the father, had made face-to-face contact with him, and had provided an outline of services that he could use to develop parenting skills. Id. at *3.

We also noted that "the Department made efforts, although futile, to place K.J.T.M. with relatives." Id. We observed that the Department had ruled out the father's mother because she "had a lengthy history with the Department regarding other children" and had ruled out his sisters because "one sister had children who were being raised by [father's mother], and the other sister was in high school." Id. We then noted that the Department had contacted father's grandmother but that she "advised she was neither physically nor financially able to care for the child." Id. Based on these facts, we held that "the trial court did not err in finding that the Department made reasonable efforts to return the child to [the father]." Id. at *4.

In In re G.P., the Waco Court of Appeals held that the Department made reasonable efforts to return the child to Mother where there was "evidence of the Department preparing and administering [Mother's] service plan," Mother "failed to complete any of the tasks or goals set forth in her service plan," and specifically, Mother failed "to keep in contact with the caseworker or to visit with [the child] other than a few visits early in the proceeding." In re G.P., 503 S.W.3d 531, 533 (Tex. App.-Waco 2016, pet. denied). The court also noted that "[t]he services included in the family service plan were reinstated when [Mother] contacted the caseworker about working on her service plan during the pendency of the case after the service providers had terminated [her services] due to her failure to participate." The court held that, on these facts, "a reasonable fact[-]finder could have formed a firm conviction that the Department made reasonable efforts to return [the child] to [Mother]." Id.

In In re N.A.V., the San Antonio Court of Appeals held that the Department made a reasonable effort to return the child to Mother where it established that, "[o]n multiple occasions, one of the caseworkers, Rodriguez, asked Mother to meet with her so they could review the prior judgment and Mother's service plan," but "Mother refused to meet with Rodriguez" and, "[i]n fact, Mother told the caseworker she was `not going to do anything for the Department.'" In re N.A.V., No. 04-19-00646-CV, 2020 WL 1250830, at *6 (Tex. App.-San Antonio Mar. 17, 2020, pet. denied) (mem. op.). The court also noted that, "[w]ithout a meeting, the caseworker could not assess Mother's current situation and determine what services she needed to assist her in any reunification efforts." Accordingly, it concluded, "the trial court could have formed a firm belief or conviction that the Department made reasonable efforts to return the children to Mother." Id.

Finally, in In re K.G., the Fort Worth Court of Appeals held that the Department had made reasonable efforts to return the child to Mother based on an extensive record including information that, although "Mother had paid child support and ... had attended visits with [the child] from February to September 2009," beginning "in September 2009" those visits became more sporadic. In re K.G., 350 S.W.3d 338, 343 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 2011, pet. denied). The court noted that, "in September 2009, Mother attended only one of three possible visits," that "Mother did not attend any visits in October or November 2009," and that Caseworker "Moore was unable to reestablish contact with Mother until December 2009." Id. In addition, "Mother started going months between phone contacts with" Moore, and "Mother's phone numbers were `typically disconnected.'" Id. Moreover, "when [Moore] went to Mother's last known address in October 2009, she was informed that Mother no longer resided there."

Also, there was evidence that Caseworker Moore "asked Mother to complete additional services, including parenting classes, anger management classes, individual counseling, and a drug assessment," and although "Mother completed the parenting classes," she "complied with only two of fourteen CPS-requested drug tests." Moore "sent a letter to Mother ... outlining additional recommended services, and... Mother acknowledged to Moore that she received the letter." Id. The caseworker also "urged Mother to seek mental health treatment based on Mother's erratic behavior and exhibition of different personalities, although Mother's drug issues were Moore's main concern." Id. at 344. The Court held that, on the record before it, "the trial court could have reasonably formed a firm belief or conviction that the `reasonable efforts' element was proven." Id. at 354.

3. The Evidence is Legally Insufficient to Support Termination Under Subsection N Based on Appellant's Failure to Voluntarily Comply with the Trial Court's Orders and the Department's Desire that He Perform Services Prior to Adjudication of His Parentage

To begin with, the Department's argument is essentially that, even though it did not provide the service plan to Appellant until fifteen days before trial, and even though the trial court did not issue its Additional Temporary Order until twenty-nine days before trial, the trial court and the Department told Appellant beginning in October 2019—when he first appeared in court—that he would have to perform services before the final trial. It concludes that such evidence establishes that it made a reasonable effort to return J.W. to Appellant. However, to allow termination based on general orders and statements regarding Appellant's need to perform future services without actually implementing a plan would significantly undermine the statutory provisions requiring that the Department prepare a service plan in cooperation with the parents.7 Accordingly, the fact that Appellant knew he would have to perform services at some future point does not satisfy the Department's requirement that it make a reasonable effort to return the child to a parent. Thus, Appellant's failure to comply with these general orders and statements of future obligations do not establish that the Department made a reasonable effort to return J.W. to Appellant as required by subsection N.

Yet, there is another reason why this evidence is insufficient, namely, until Appellant was adjudicated to be J.W.'s father, neither the Department nor the trial court had the authority to require him to perform services. Section 264.203 provides,

(a) Except as provided by Subsection (d), the court on request of the department may order the parent, managing conservator, guardian, or other member of the subject child's household to: (1) participate in the services the department provides or purchases for: (A) alleviating the effects of the abuse or neglect that has occurred; or (B) reducing the reasonable likelihood that the child may be abused or neglected in the immediate and forseeable future; and (2) permit the child and any siblings of the child to receive the services. (b) The department may request the court to order the parent, managing conservator, guardian, or other member of the child's household to participate in the services whether the child resides in the home or has been removed from the home. (c) If the person ordered to participate in the services fails to follow the court's order, the court may impose appropriate sanctions in order to protect the health and safety of the child, including the removal of the child as specified by Chapter 262.

TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. § 264.203.

Unlike the parents in the cases cited by the Department,8 in this case, prior to Appellant's adjudication as J.W.'s father, he was not J.W.'s parent as defined by the Texas Family Code. Section 101.024(a) defines "parent" as "the mother, a man presumed to be the father, a man legally determined to be the father, a man who has been adjudicated to be the father by a court of competent jurisdiction, a man who has acknowledged his paternity under applicable law or an adoptive mother or father." TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. § 101.024(a). Appellant was not "presumed to be the father," he had not been "legally determined to be the father," he was not yet "adjudicated to be the father," he had not "acknowledged his paternity under applicable law," and he was not "an adoptive... father." Id. Nor was he a "managing conservator, guardian, or other member of the child's household." TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. § 264.203(a). The first time Appellant came within one of the categories of people who could be ordered to perform services under Section 264.203 was when the trial court adjudicated him as J.W.'s father on February 3, 2020.9

Moreover, this is not a typical case where an alleged father who has been involved in a long-term relationship with the child's mother is subsequently adjudicated to be the child's biological father. In this case, J.W. was born into a household consisting of Mother and Husband. Appellant was not a member of that household, did not reside in that household, and was not involved in the actions that led to J.W.'s removal from that household. At most, he was a potential father. Of course, because Mother named him as the potential father when Husband's genetic testing excluded him from being J.W.'s father, the trial court had authority to require Appellant to submit to genetic testing. See TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. § 160.502(a). Yet, as is shown below, prior to the time Appellant was adjudicated J.W.'s father, the trial court did not have the authority to require him to participate in services.10

Of course, it could be argued that, even if the trial court or the Department lacked authority to mandate services prior to adjudication of parentage, a parent's refusal to voluntarily comply with requested and suggested services is some evidence that the Department made a reasonable effort to return the child to a parent. Nevertheless, on the unique facts of this case, such evidence is legally insufficient to prove that element of subsection N. When one examines the requirements of a service plan and the intrusive information Appellant was required to produce in the context of the unique facts in this case, the logic of this conclusion is apparent.

Section 264.203(a) provides that "the court on request of the department may order" the respondent to "participate in the service the department provides or purchases for" "alleviating the effects of the abuse or neglect that has occurred" or "reducing the reasonable likelihood that the child may be abused or neglected in the immediate or forseeable future." TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. § 264.203(a). Pursuant to this broad description of services, the trial court in this case required Appellant to undergo "a court-ordered psychological or psychiatric examination" and a "drug and alcohol dependency assessment" and to "follow the recommendations of the assessment," "attend and cooperate fully in counseling sessions to address the specific issues that led to the removal of the child from the home"—even though Appellant never resided in J.W.'s home and never engaged in any conduct that resulted in his removal—"address any additional issues arising from the psychological examinations or from the counseling sessions," "complete parenting classes," and "comply with each requirement of the Department's... service plan." The trial court also required Appellant to "execute an authorization for the release of medical and mental health records to the Department, and provide the Department with a list of the names and addresses of the physicians and mental health providers who ha[d] treated [him]." It also ordered that Appellant identify all members of his household and ordered the Department to "conduct... preliminary criminal and CPS background checks of all members of the household age 14 and up." The service plan required Appellant to "obtain and maintain stable ... employment," "convey to the worker information learned" from the parenting course "and demonstrate skills during parent/child visits," "develop a positive support system," "submit to random drug and alcohol screenings," "participate in a psychological evaluation," and "attend and actively participate in twice monthly counseling sessions."

Assuming there is a factual basis for doing so, imposition of these types of service requirements and production of this type of information is entirely appropriate and authorized under Section 264.203 of the Texas Family Code when it is directed towards a "parent, managing conservator, guardian, or other member of the subject child's household." TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. § 264.203(a). And it is reasonable and proper to require such persons to undergo such services as a condition to obtaining the return of their child. It is also reasonable and proper to hold that if they fail to perform those services, they can be sanctioned "in order to protect the health and safety of the child, including the removal of the child as specified by Chapter 262." TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. § 264.203(c). But it would be entirely unreasonable and improper to require a stranger to the child's household in Appellant's situation to undergo such services or produce such information. Mandating that a stranger to the child's household in Appellant's situation undergo such services and produce such information to a government agency would constitute a substantial invasion of that person's privacy.11

To hold otherwise would place alleged fathers in Appellant's unique situation— i.e., ones who were never a part of the child's household, who never engaged in any of the actions resulting in the child's removal from the home, and who, although they may have suspected they were the child's father, did not know that fact until genetic testing confirmed that they were12 —in an untenable dilemma. Should they refuse to engage in services until it is confirmed they are the child's father, their refusal could be used against them to terminate their subsequently adjudicated parental rights. On the other hand, should they voluntarily perform the Department's services and produce the requested information and genetic testing subsequently eliminates them as the father, they will have submitted to an extensive invasion of their privacy—as well as the privacy of every member of their household above the age of fourteen years—by a government agency that had no authority to require such services and obtain such information otherwise.

The issue in this case becomes even more manifest when one examines what would happen in a parental-rights termination case where a mother with a husband and presumed father names more than one other alleged father who is a stranger to the mother's household. A trial court certainly has the authority to require that all alleged fathers submit to genetic testing. See TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. § 160.502(a). But are all the alleged fathers then required to undergo extensive and intrusive services and production of confidential information—not only for themselves but also for every member of their household over fourteen years of age— prior to adjudication of parentage when only one of them can be established as the biological father? Furthermore, it is certainly possible that an alleged father may have no interest in undergoing such a privacy invasion based on a mere possibility of parentage, but once genetic testing establishes paternity, he may willingly participate in whatever services are necessary to obtain custody of his child, and he may willingly produce the requested information.

The law is clear that a defendant in a criminal proceeding may not be required to forfeit one constitutional right in order to assert a different constitutional right. See Simmons v. United States, 390 U.S. 377, 394, 88 S.Ct. 967, 19 L.Ed.2d 1247 (1968) ("We find it intolerable that one constitutional right should have to be surrendered in order to assert another."). To hold that the refusal of an alleged father in Appellant's unique situation to voluntarily cooperate in a service plan or to surrender significant personal information to a government agency before he is adjudicated as a biological father can later be used against him to terminate his fundamental liberty interest in the parent-child relationship would amount to the same Hobson's choice prohibited in criminal proceedings.

To be clear, we do not hold that the Department could never use such information against an alleged father in a parental-rights termination case. In cases where an alleged father falls within one of the categories listed in Section 264.203 of the Texas Family Code, such alleged father is subject to adherence to a service plan, and the refusal to cooperate can be considered in evaluating whether the Department made a reasonable attempt to return the child to the parent under subsection N. Nor do we reject the possibility that an alleged father not falling within the categories listed in Section 264.203(a) may have such a significant connection to the child's household that his failure to voluntarily comply with the Department's requests could weigh against him under subsection N. But on the unique facts of this case, where the alleged father does not fall within the category of persons listed in Section 264.203, is a stranger to the child's household, did not engage in the acts that required removal of the child from that household, and does not know but only suspects he is the child's father, the Department must "put the horse in front of the cart"—it must first adjudicate the father as parent and then it may proceed to order services and compel production of information.13 Given the unique facts of this case, Appellant's failure to voluntarily perform services or to comply with court orders requiring him to perform services prior to adjudication of his parentage cannot be used against him to establish constructive abandonment under subsection N.

4. The Evidence Is Factually Insufficient to Support Termination Based on Evidence Appellant Impeded the Department's Attempts to Timely Adjudicate His Parentage

Nevertheless, while the Department cannot use the failure of an alleged father in Appellant's situation to voluntarily perform services prior to adjudication to show it made a reasonable effort to return the child under subsection N, it can use evidence that an alleged father impeded the Department's efforts to timely adjudicate parentage to prove that element. In other words, an alleged father in Appellant's situation cannot use a delay in adjudication of his parentage that he created to defend against termination of his parental rights. In this case, Appellant knew he was required to submit to genetic testing as of the October 3, 2019, hearing when he first appeared in this case. Had the Department obtained his DNA sample that day and received the results in November 2019 and had the Department issued a service plan by the end of that month—which was four months prior to the final hearing—the facts in this case might take on an entirely different character. Yet, the DNA sample was not taken until December 20, 2019, and the results were not obtained until January 21, 2020. The trial court's order requiring Appellant to perform services was not issued until February 3, and the service plan was not issued until February 18, fifteen days before trial.

Given the problems the Department experienced in securing Appellant's participation in this proceeding, the trial court could have inferred from the evidence that the delay in obtaining Appellant's DNA sample resulted from that same difficulty.14 And, if so, then there would be some evidence establishing that Appellant's actions impeded the Department's legitimate attempts to timely adjudicate his parentage. But there is no evidence in the record explaining the reason for delay in obtaining the DNA sample, in obtaining the results, in adjudicating Appellant's parentage, in issuing the Additional Temporary Order, and in meeting with Appellant to discuss the service plan. Thus, while there is some evidence from which the trial court might infer that Appellant's actions impeded the Department's legitimate efforts to adjudicate Appellant's parentage, there is factually insufficient evidence from which the court could form a firm belief or conviction as to the truth of that inference. Accordingly, the evidence is factually insufficient to establish that the Department made a reasonable effort to return J.W. to Appellant that would support constructive abandonment under subsection N.

III. Conclusion

Consequently, we find that the evidence is legally insufficient to support termination of Appellant's parental rights under subsections O and P of Section 161.001(b)(1) of the Texas Family Code. We further find that the evidence is legally insufficient to support termination of Appellant's parental rights under subsection N to the extent that the Department relies on his failure to perform services pursuant to the trial court's Additional Temporary Order issued February 3, 2020, and the Department's service plan presented to Appellant on February 18, 2020. We likewise hold that the evidence is legally insufficient to support termination of Appellant's parental rights under subsection N to the extent that the Department relies on his failure to voluntarily perform services prior to adjudication of his parentage on February 3, 2020. Finally, we hold that the evidence is factually insufficient to support termination of Appellant's parental rights under subsection N to the extent that the Department relies on evidence suggesting that timely adjudication of Appellant's parentage was impeded by Appellant's failure to cooperate with the Department in obtaining a necessary DNA sample.

Consequently, we reverse the judgment of the trial court terminating Appellant's parental rights and remand this case to the trial court for a new trial.

FootNotes


1. Subsection P also provides that the Department may alternatively prove that the parent continued to abuse a controlled substance "after completion of a court-ordered substance abuse treatment program." TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. § 161.001(b)(1)(P)(ii). Nevertheless, the trial court only based its termination on subsection (P)(i). Therefore, we will not address the alternate provision in subsection P(ii).
2. Subsection N provides that a parent's parental rights may be terminated based on proof that the parent (N) constructively abandoned the child who has been in the permanent or temporary managing conservatorship of the Department of Family and Protective Services for not less than six months, and: (i) the department has made reasonable efforts to return the child to the parent; (ii) the parent has not regularly visited or maintained significant contact with the child; and (iii) the parent has demonstrated an inability to provide the child with a safe environment.

TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. § 161.001(b)(1)(N).

3. As noted, the plan, among other things, required Appellant to "complet[e] a parenting course," "participate in a psychological evaluation... and follow all recommendations made by the assessment," and to "[t]wice monthly" participate in "individual counseling," to "continue until the therapist conveys that all therapeutic goals have been reached and there are no further concerns of the ability to effectively parent."
4. Were the law otherwise, the Department could set up a parent for failure by waiting until fifteen days before trial to provide a service plan to a parent and then, when the parent refuses to comply with the plan given the impossibility of completing it, argue that the parent's refusal to comply supported termination under subsection O.
5. For example, the trial court ordered Appellant to begin psychological examinations and counseling "within 30 days of being notified of the counselor selected by the Department," and it further ordered him to "continue until the counselor determines that no further sessions are necessary or until further order of this Court."
6. The record reflects that Mother testified that she told Appellant he was J.W.'s father after Husband was excluded by DNA testing in May 2019. However, Mother testified that this conversation with Appellant occurred "right before [she] got incarcerated" and that "[i]t was close to November, the beginning of December... 2019."
7. For example, Section 263.102 states, (a) The service plan must: .... (3) be prepared by the department in conference with the parents; .... (7) state the actions and responsibilities that are necessary for the child's parents to take to achieve the plan goal during the period of the service plan and the assistance to be provided to the parents by the department or other agency toward meeting that goal; ... (8) state any specific skills or knowledge that the child's parents must acquire or learn, as well as any behavioral changes the parents must exhibit, to achieve the plan goal; ... (d) The department or other authorized entity must write the service plan in a manner that is clear and understandable to the parent in order to facilitate the parent's ability to follow the requirements of the service plan.

TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. § 263.102(a)(3), (7)-(8), and (d). Section 263.103(a) provides,

(a) The original service plan shall be developed jointly by the child's parents and a representative of the department, including informing the parents of their rights in connection with the service plan process. If a parent is not able or willing to participate in the development of the service plan, it should be so noted in the plan.

TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. § 263.103(a). Section 263.106 states,

After reviewing the original or any amended service plan and making any changes or modifications it deems necessary, the court shall incorporate the original and any amended service plan into the orders of the court and may render additional appropriate orders to implement or require compliance with an original or amended service plan.

TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. § 263.106.

8. In G.P., N.A.V., and K.G., the parent in question was the child's mother. In K.J.T.M., the parent was the child's father, but there was no issue whether he was, in fact, the child's biological father.
9. We note that, although Appellant did not legally become J.W.'s father until he was adjudicated by the trial court on February 3, 2020, Section 160.505(a) states, (a) A man is rebuttably identified as the father of the child under this chapter if the genetic testing complies with this subchapter and the results disclose: (1) that the man has at least a 99 percent probability of paternity, using a prior probability of 0.5 as calculated by using the combined paternity index obtained in the testing; and (2) a combined paternity index of at least 100 to 1.

TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. § 160.505(a). In this case, the genetic testing results, which appear to comply with the statutory accuracy requirements, were filed on January 21, 2020. Under Section 160.505(a), this would create a presumption that Appellant was J.W.'s father as of that date. Nevertheless, this does not change the fact that the Additional Temporary Order was issued only twenty-nine days before trial and the service plan was not provided to Appellant until fifteen days before trial. Consequently, even though it appears that Appellant became a presumed father on January 21, 2020—assuming the DNA test results filed with the trial court on that day met the requirements of Section 160.505(a)—this does not change our analysis.

10. Section 161.002 of the Texas Family Code creates a procedure for termination of the rights of an alleged biological father who "(1) after being served with citation, ... does not respond ..."; or "(2) the child is over one year of age at the time the petition for termination of the parent-child relationship is filed" and "he has not registered with the paternity registry under Chapter 160"; or "(3) the child is under one year of age at the time the petition for termination of the parent-child relationship is filed and he has not registered with the paternity registry"; or finally, "(4) he has registered with the paternity registry... but the petitioner's attempt to personally serve citation ... has been unsuccessful, despite the due diligence of the petitioner." TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. § 161.002(b). In this case, (1) although Appellant did not answer the petition, he responded to the petition by appearing in court on October 3, 2019, (2) the child was less than one year old when the petition was filed, (3) and Appellant did not register with the paternity register. Thus, termination under Section 161.002(b), subsections (1), (2), and (4), was unavailable to the Department. Termination might have been accomplished under Section 161.002(b)(3) inasmuch as J.W. was under one year of age when the petition was filed and Appellant did not register with the parental registry, but because he voluntarily appeared in court in response to the petition, he could not be terminated simply for failing to register with the paternity registry. Accordingly, the trial court did not terminate Appellant's parental rights under Section 161.002.
11. Of course, Appellant was not a stranger to this proceeding in the sense that he was a named respondent. Yet, Appellant was a stranger to J.W.'s household, had nothing to do with the acts that required J.W.'s removal from his household, and was not within the categories of people listed in Section 264.203(a). Moreover, at the time of J.W.'s birth, Mother was married, and until the DNA testing proved otherwise, Husband was J.W.'s presumed father. In fact, J.W. was named after Husband.
12. Appellant testified that the first time he knew that he could "possibly be the father of [J.W.]" was "whenever [his] mom called and told [him] ... the baby [was] not [Husband's]." Presumably, Mother knew who J.W.'s potential fathers were. Mother testified that she told Appellant that he could be J.W.'s father when she first became pregnant—although she also testified, "I believe the baby was [Husband's] at the beginning of my pregnancy. He was there through my whole pregnancy." Mother also testified that, in late November or early December 2019—after the DNA testing eliminated Husband as J.W.'s father—she told Appellant that he was J.W.'s father. But it does not follow that Appellant knew at that point that he was J.W.'s father. At best, it merely proves that he knew he could be J.W.'s father and that Mother was alleging he was J.W.'s father. In the absence of proof that Appellant knew he was J.W.'s father, or that he was somehow connected to J.W.'s household, it is not unreasonable that he would refuse to voluntarily comply with the Department's services it had no right to require and refuse to produce the requested information it had no authority to obtain, before it was established by genetic testing that he was actually J.W.'s father.
13. In fact, upon adjudication of parentage, an alleged father in Appellant's unique situation is entitled to a full adversary hearing under Section 262.201, within fourteen days, wherein the trial court "shall order the return of the child to the parent ... unless the court finds sufficient evidence to" maintain the Department's conservatorship of the child. See TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. § 262.201(a), (g).
14. For example, Appellant admitted that he received telephone calls from his court-appointed attorney but did not return them or leave any reply messages. Department Supervisor Jacob Crater testified that the Department "had been sending information through his attorney, trying to call numbers, things like that" to locate Appellant before he appeared at the October 3 hearing. Crater also testified, "[The October 3 hearing] was the first time we had met him and we started to — we tried to start getting the ball rolling, of course, getting DNA testing with him, you know, and just seeing if he wanted to be part of the case." Crater also testified that he requested DNA from Appellant "as soon as [he] got the order from the Court" and that he "tried to put it in as soon as possible because [he knew] those things can take some time." He also testified, "[W]hen I did it, I emailed out — I put the parties of the case on the request; you, others, so that everyone would know that I had put that in. I wanted us to get the results as soon as possible." The order for genetic testing was issued on October 7, 2019.

CPS Caseworker Rowland testified, "Maybe November, I started to contact him to meet up with him." She continued, "[W]henever I went to Marshall, I would knock on the door, say my name, and then leave my card, as well as leaving messages — and mail." She testified that she began doing that "[r]ight when [they] found out that [Husband] wasn't [J.W.'s] father, and when [Mother] gave [them] the name, ... May, maybe June of [2019]." Rowland also testified that "the first time [Appellant] responded to [her] after the court date in October" was "sometime in November." She said "it was by phone." She continued, "We attempted to meet, but that didn't work out. But it was pretty much through his grandmother's phone." She agreed that the call "was not text message, it was natural phone call." She also testified that she "talked to his grandmother" and that she discussed a DNA test during that call. Finally, she testified that she didn't know if she "was able to give him the date of that DNA test during that conversation,... but [she knew] whenever [she] did find out that date, [she] did let them know the same day," and "he did go to that DNA test."


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