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In re Doe

Supreme Court of Idaho

September 22, 2017

In the Matter of: JANE DOE I, A Child Under Eighteen (18) Years of Age.
JOHN DOE I (2017-15), Respondent-Appellant. JANE DOE and JOHN DOE II, husband and wife, Petitioners-Respondents,

         2017 Opinion No. 105

         Appeal from the Magistrate Court of the Third Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Canyon County. Hon. A. Lynne Krogh, Magistrate Judge.

         The judgment terminating John Doe I's parental rights is affirmed.

          Canyon County Public Defender, Caldwell, attorneys for appellant. Scott J. Davis argued.

          James F. Jacobson, Boise, attorney for respondents.

          JONES, Justice

         I. Nature of the Case

         In a case arising out of Canyon County, John Doe I ("Father") appeals a magistrate court's order terminating his parental rights to Jane Doe I ("Child"). Father argues that it was error to conclude that he neglected Child because Jane Doe ("Mother") prevented Father from supporting or contacting Child. Father also argues that the magistrate court, in analyzing the best interest of Child, impermissibly compared Father's relationship to John Doe II ("Stepfather") without considering Mother's actions.

         II. Factual and Procedural Background

         Mother and Father were married in December 2008 and are the biological parents of Child, who was born in July 2009. In April 2010, Mother moved from California to Idaho with Child. In July 2010, Father visited Child for her birthday. In October 2010, Mother established residency in Idaho, filed for divorce, and sought sole custody of Child. Mother testified that there were several instances of domestic violence in the marriage and that Father would drink heavily and could become aggressive and abusive. Father testified that there was no domestic violence and that he did not have an alcohol or anger problem during the marriage.

         In late October 2010, Mother began dating Stepfather. In November 2010, the divorce decree was entered, which awarded Mother sole custody of Child and required Father to pay child support. In early 2011, Father moved to Idaho. In February 2011, Father visited Mother unexpectedly, acted profane, smelled of alcohol, and wanted to take Child. Mother called the police, and Father was removed from the property.

         In April 2011, Mother permitted Father to visit Child for four consecutive weekends, the last of which was an overnight visit. Afterwards, Father testified that Mother stopped letting him visit Child because he had not paid child support. Mother testified that, in addition to Father not paying child support, Father was not prepared for his visits with Child (specifically, Mother complained that Father did not have a car seat for Child at his first visit and another time asked Mother for diapers). Stepfather testified that after the April 2011 visits, Father's text messages to Mother became aggressive, and as a result, Mother stopped communicating with Father directly. However, Mother kept in touch with Father's family.

         In June 2011, Stepfather moved in with Mother and Child. Around the same time, Father moved in with Mother's friend ("Girlfriend") and her two children. In late 2011, Mother and Stepfather moved into a different home, and Mother got a new cell phone number. Mother did not give Father the new address or phone number.

         In early 2012, Father filed a petition to modify custody. On September 14, 2012, a magistrate court modified the divorce decree to reflect that: (1) Mother shall continue to have sole legal and primary physical custody of Child; (2) Father is entitled to supervised visitation at K.I.D.S. Services or a similar facility for up to one hour every two weeks; (3) if Father wants unsupervised visitation he would be required to submit to an alcohol and psychiatric evaluation to the court; (4) Father is not to consume alcohol within 48 hours of visitation with Child; and (5) Father is required to pay $296 in child support each month.

         There was conflicting testimony at trial regarding Father's attempted visitations after the 2012 custody modifications. Father testified that he called K.I.D.S. Services, filled out the paperwork, and paid the fees. He testified that he called and emailed to schedule a visit with Child, but K.I.D.S. Services informed him that Mother was not responding and refunded his money. Father testified that he tried to schedule a visit approximately six times over a two-month period before he stopped trying. Mother testified that she called K.I.D.S. Services, filled out the paperwork, but never received a call to schedule a visit. Father made no further attempts to visit Child or to modify custody through the court.

         Mother maintained relationships with other individuals in Father's family, but they did not provide Father with her contact information. Father learned of events in Child's life through his family. Father provided birthday gifts for Child in 2011 and 2012.

         In 2013, Father was convicted of domestic violence involving Girlfriend. The court entered a no contact order, which Father violated twice. In March 2016, Father and Girlfriend separated. In June 2016, there was another incident of domestic violence in which Father assaulted Girlfriend. Father was sentenced to four years fixed plus six indeterminate, which was suspended with retained jurisdiction. At the time of trial, Father was doing a rider at the state facility in Cottonwood.

         Stepfather testified that he served in the army for six years and had been working as an accountant since 2013. Stepfather testified that Child started calling him "Dad, " and while at first he corrected her, he relaxed and allowed it after Father's family also referred to Stepfather as "Dad." Mother and Stepfather testified that Child has a "father-daughter relationship" with Stepfather that is similar to his relationship with their other sons. Stepfather is involved in Child's daily life. Until the summer of 2015, Child was not aware she had a dad other than Stepfather.

         Girlfriend testified that Father lived with her and her two children, who were from a previous relationship, for nearly five years. Father and Girlfriend also had their own child sometime in 2012. She testified that Father "was a wonderful father and step-father." Girlfriend testified that the incidents between her and Father did not make him a bad dad, and that she would not stop him from seeing her kids. Girlfriend testified that Father talks about Child "all the time, but he felt helpless ...

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