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Adoption of Shayleigh S.

Supreme Court of Maine

December 20, 2018

ADOPTION OF SHAYLEIGH S. et al.

          Submitted On Briefs: November 28, 2018

          Randy G. Day, Esq., Garland, for appellant father

          Justin E. French, Esq., Ranger Copeland French, P.A., Brunswick, for appellees mother and stepfather

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          PER CURIAM

         [¶1] The father of S.S. and P.S. appeals from judgments entered by the Kennebec County Probate Court [E. Mitchell, J.) terminating his parental rights in anticipation of an adoption pursuant to 18-A M.R.S. § 9-204(a)-(b) (2017)[1] and 22 M.R.S.§ 4055(1)(A)(2), (B)(2)(a), and (B)(2)(b)(ii)(2017). He contends that the court erred in its use of statements made by S.S. during an in camera interview and that there was insufficient evidence to support the court's finding of parental unfitness as to both children. We affirm the judgments.

         I. CASE HISTORY

         [¶2] This appeal arises from private adoption proceedings and petitions to terminate the father's parental rights brought by the mother and stepfather of S.S. and P.S. in the Kennebec County Probate Court. The petitions sought to terminate the parental rights of the children's biological father, thereby freeing the children for adoption by their stepfather. A one-day hearing was held on the mother and stepfather's petitions on May 16, 2018, at which the mother and father testified. On the same day, the court interviewed S.S. in camera.

         [¶3] On May 30, 2018, the court issued two judgments, one for each child, terminating the father's parental rights. In its judgments, the court recited the testimony of the witnesses and also issued what it explicitly characterized as findings, applying the requisite clear and convincing evidence standard of proof. See In re Child of Portia L., 2018 ME 51, ¶ 2, 183 A.3d 747. Because a court's findings will be affirmed on appeal if they are supported by any evidence in the record, see Adoption of Isabelle T., 2017 ME 220, ¶ 30, 175 A.3d 639, the recitation of testimony in a judgment is unnecessary and could be viewed as limiting the support for certain findings to the recited testimony. If a court accepts a fact stated in testimony and the fact is important to the judgment, it is best stated as an affirmative finding rather than as a reference to testimony.

         [¶4] In both judgments the court made the following findings of fact, which are supported by competent evidence in the record:

Based upon clear and convincing evidence presented at the hearing, this Court concludes that termination of the parental rights of [the father], thereby freeing the child for adoption by the petitioners, would be in the child's best interests. This Court specifically finds that the [father]'s failure to make any attempt to establish a family relationship with the child, or contribute in any way toward the child's financial support, constitutes clear and convincing evidence that the [father] has been unwilling or unable to take responsibility for the child within a time reasonably calculated to meet the child's needs.
In reaching its decision, this Court has considered carefully the needs of this child, the child's age and relationship with the [father] and with the petitioners, and the amount of time spent with each of the parties and the child's ability to integrate into the petitioner's home.
The parents of [S.S.] and [P.S.] were divorced on July 20, 2015. [The father] was awarded visits every 3rd weekend and three weeks in the summer. He also was ordered to pay child support of $87.50 weekly for his two children. [The father] had both children for a visit at his mother's home in August of 2015. He testified that he attempted to visit his children in September of 2015 but found no one home when he arrived. He testified that after a second unsuccessful attempt to visit, he ceased efforts to visit and pay child support. For almost three years, the father failed to make responsible attempts to establish a relationship with his children and did not contribute to their financial support. The disability needs of his young son [P.S.] make this absence more damaging.
Both parents acknowledged the father's criminal mischief complaint for destruction of many household items with an axe. Both the mother and the daughter [S.S.] testified ...

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