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In re of Adoption of C.S.

Court of Appeals of Kansas

October 4, 2019

In the Matter of the Adoption of C.S.

         SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

         1. The United States and Kansas Constitutions provide substantive protection for a parent when he or she has assumed parental duties. But when a parent has not accepted some measure of responsibility for his or her child's future, the law will not protect that parent's mere biological relationship with the child.

         2. The responsibility to support a person's child does not commence at birth. A father has an affirmative duty under Kansas law to provide support to the pregnant mother.

         3. Kansas adoption statutes allow a district court to terminate a father's parental rights when the father, "after having knowledge of the pregnancy, failed without reasonable cause to provide support for the mother during the six months prior to the child's birth." K.S.A. 2018 Supp. 59-2136(h)(1)(D).

         4. The party seeking to terminate a person's parental rights has the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that termination is appropriate under K.S.A. 2018 Supp. 59-2136. Clear and convincing evidence is a standard of proof-or confidence in the facts-sufficient for a fact-finder to believe that the truth of the facts asserted is highly probable. Appellate courts reviewing a termination decision must determine whether, after reviewing all the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party, a rational fact-finder could have found the determination to be highly probable.

         5. K.S.A. 2018 Supp. 59-2136 draws no distinction between parents who are minors and parents who are over the age of 18 when establishing the parameters of a district court's analysis. Instead, K.S.A. 2018 Supp. 59-2136(h)(2)(A) directs a court faced with a petition to terminate a person's parental rights to "consider all of the relevant surrounding circumstances"-including, inter alia, his or her age, earning power, and any support the person provided.

         6. An appellate court does not reweigh conflicting evidence, reassess witnesses' credibility, or redetermine questions of fact.

         7. When a court concludes it is appropriate to terminate a person's parental rights under K.S.A. 2018 Supp. 59-2136(h)(1)(D), it need not consider whether termination would have been warranted under a different circumstance listed in K.S.A. 2018 Supp. 59-2136(h)(1).

          Appeal from Shawnee District Court; Evelyn Z. Wilson, judge.

          Mark Works, of Topeka, for appellant natural father.

          Austin K. Vincent, of Topeka, for appellees adoptive parents.

          Before Arnold-Burger, C.J., Bruns and Warner, JJ.

          WARNER, J.:

         Under Kansas law, the parental rights of a natural father opposing an adoption can be terminated if the parties seeking the termination prove by clear and convincing evidence that the father, "after having knowledge of the pregnancy, failed without reasonable cause to provide support for the mother during the six months prior to the child's birth." K.S.A. 2018 Supp. 59-2136(h)(1)(D). At issue here is whether a father who was a minor at the start of a pregnancy but turned 18 before the child's birth provided support for the pregnant mother within the meaning of this statute.

         In March 2018, prospective adoptive parents petitioned the district court for temporary custody and eventual adoption of C.S., a child born in December 2017. C.S.'s Mother was 16 years old when she gave birth; C.S.'s Father turned 18 years old five months into the pregnancy. Mother consented to the adoption, but Father did not. The prospective adoptive parents therefore sought to terminate Father's parental rights, alleging he failed to support Mother during the pregnancy and after C.S.'s birth. After an evidentiary hearing where the district court heard testimony from numerous witnesses- including Mother and Father-the court concluded Father had not provided meaningful support to Mother during the six months before C.S.'s birth, granted the petition, and terminated Father's parental rights.

         Father appeals, arguing that the district court should have analyzed the evidence differently since Father was a minor for a portion of the pregnancy. Father also argues that the district court did not give proper weight to his support efforts, especially because Mother's family moved her to Florida to live with a relative during the last two months of the pregnancy. We conclude the district court analyzed the evidence under the correct statutory framework and the district court's factual findings are supported by the record. As an appellate court, we do not second-guess the district court's credibility assessments or reweigh the evidence. Thus, we affirm the district court's termination of Father's parental rights.

         Factual Background

         Father met Mother in late August 2016 while he was 17 years old and a senior in high school. Mother had recently turned 15 years old. Father and Mother became friends that fall and began to be sexually active in early 2017. In March 2017, Mother became pregnant-a fact she and Father learned in May or June 2017. Father was aware throughout the pregnancy and after the child's birth that he was the child's father.

         Mother's parents were divorced. Though she had previously lived with her mom, that relationship was strained. Thus, in April 2017, she moved in with her dad, where she continued to live until October 2017. Father lived with his mom throughout the pregnancy and after the child's birth.

         In the summer after she learned she was pregnant, Mother spent most of her waking hours at Father's mom's home with Father. During this time, Mother and Father would watch television, play video games, and have sex, sometimes more than once per day. Mother would eat meals at the house (the food having been ...


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