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Alizota v. Stanfield

Court of Appeals of Georgia

November 13, 2014


Termination of parental rights. Fayette Superior Court. Before Judge Sams.

Justin B. Grubbs, for appellant.

Stephen D. Ott, James B. Outman, for appellees.

DOYLE, Presiding Judge. Andrews, P. J., and Boggs, J., concur.


Page 708

Doyle, Presiding Judge.

This appeal arises from the trial court's entry of judgment terminating Emmanuel Alizota's parental rights and grant of a petition of adoption of S. K. filed by Ryan and Melissa Stanfield.[1] When this Court originally addressed this appeal, we vacated the [329 Ga.App. 551] superior court order terminating Alizota's parental rights and granting the Stanfields' petition for adoption because the superior court lacked jurisdiction to enter an adoption order.[2] The Stanfields petitioned the Supreme Court for certiorari, which granted the petition and reversed our opinion, holding that because the termination of Alizota's parental rights had not been raised previously in the juvenile court during deprivation proceedings, the juvenile court did not have priority jurisdiction over the termination.[3] The Supreme Court remanded the case for further proceedings, and we now reverse the trial court's order, for the reasons that follow.

On appeal from an order terminating parental rights based on an adoption petition, we construe the evidence favorably to the trial court's ruling and determine whether any rational trier of fact could have found by clear and convincing evidence that the biological parent's rights to custody have been lost. We do not weigh the evidence or assess witness credibility, but defer to the trial court's factual findings and affirm unless this standard is not met.[4]

So viewed, the record reflects that on December 9, 2009, S. K.'s mother was arrested

Page 709

for driving under the influence while S. K. was in her vehicle.[5] Based on the incident, the Department of Family and Children Services (" the Department" ) took S. K., who was approximately six months old at the time, into shelter care and placed her in the care of the Stanfields pending a deprivation hearing.[6] On January 22, 2010, the Juvenile Court of Fayette County entered an order adjudicating S. K. deprived as to the mother on the grounds of neglect, lack of proper parental care and supervision, and drug use.[7]

[329 Ga.App. 552] Upon becoming involved in S. K.'s case, the Department contacted Alizota as the putative father (he was not listed on the birth certificate), who moved to legitimate the child, and the juvenile court granted his motion in March 2010. The Stanfields, however, opposed the legitimation. According to Melissa, the mother lived with the Stanfields during S. K.'s infancy, Alizota was not involved with S. K. between the time she was approximately one month old and shortly after the mother's arrest in December 2009, at which point Alizota visited with S. K. through the Department.[8] The Department developed a reunification case plan for Alizota that, among other things, required him to obtain a steady source of income and stable housing, screen negative for drug use, and pay child support.

Alizota and the mother eventually consented to a nonreunification plan, and long-term temporary custody of S. K. was given to the Stanfields, pursuant to former OCGA § 15-11-58 (i). The parties met in mid-April and consented to the entry of nonreunification with relinquishment of custody by the mother and Alizota to the Stanfields, and the juvenile court entered a consent order dated June 14, 2010, nunc pro tunc April 15, 2010, and an amended consent order dated August 18, 2010, nunc pro tunc June 14, 2010, finding that Alizota had agreed to relinquish custody of S. K. and granting custody to the Stanfields until S. K. reached 18 years old.

The order also found that Alizota wished to remain active in S. K.'s life, and the court ordered supervised visits for Alizota, finding that he could later move for unsupervised visits with the child. As part of the order, Melissa stipulated that she would supervise visits with the parents and she would not oppose unsupervised visits. Finally, in line with the statutory provisions of former OCGA § 15-11-58 (i) (2) (A), the juvenile court ordered the Department to review S. K.'s placement every 36 months.

Immediately after custody was transferred to the Stanfields, Melissa halted S. K.'s visitation with Alizota until he provided her with a clean drug test despite the fact that Alizota had been visiting with S. K. until that time under the Department's supervision without such a requirement. In early July 2010, the parties went to court to resolve the visitation issue, and the juvenile court ordered Alizota [329 Ga.App. 553] to provide drug tests to the Department; by August 2010, the clean drug screens had been completed and by September 2010, the juvenile court had ordered Melissa to allow visitation in two single-hour visits.

Page 710

From August 2010 to January 2011, Alizota, who previously had completed parenting classes, visited with S. K., first on a supervised basis and later on an unsupervised basis, and he also remitted child support to the Stanfields, had ...

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