OPINION HAS NO PRECEDENTIAL VALUE. IT SHOULD NOT BE CITED OR
RELIED ON AS PRECEDENT IN ANY PROCEEDING EXCEPT AS PROVIDED
BY RULE 268(d)(2), SCACR.
Submitted July 26, 2017
From Dillon County Cely Anne Brigman, Family Court Judge
Ward Peace, of Sally Ward Peace, PA, of Conway, for
Willard Fowler, of North Myrtle Beach, as the Guardian ad
litem for Appellant.
Scarlet Bell Moore, of Greenville, for Respondent.
Ammons Hayes, of Dillon, for the Guardian ad Litem for the
Bass (Father) appeals the family court's order
terminating his parental rights to his minor child
(Child). On appeal, Father argues clear and
convincing evidence does not support the statutory grounds
for termination of parental rights (TPR). Father also argues
TPR is not in Child's best interest. We reverse and
appeal from the family court, this court reviews factual and
legal issues de novo. Simmons v. Simmons, 392 S.C.
412, 414-15, 709 S.E.2d 666, 667 (2011); see also Lewis
v. Lewis, 392 S.C. 381, 386, 709 S.E.2d 650, 652 (2011).
Although this court reviews the family court's findings
de novo, we are not required to ignore the fact that the
family court, which saw and heard the witnesses, was in a
better position to evaluate their credibility and assign
comparative weight to their testimony. Lewis, 392
S.C. at 385, 709 S.E.2d at 651-52. The burden is upon the
appellant to convince this court the family court erred in
its findings. Id. at 385, 709 S.E.2d at 652.
family court may order TPR upon finding one or more of twelve
statutory grounds is satisfied and TPR is in the best
interest of the child. S.C. Code Ann. § 63-7-2570 (Supp.
2016). The grounds for TPR must be proved by clear and
convincing evidence. S.C. Dep't of Soc. Servs. v.
Parker, 336 S.C. 248, 254, 519 S.E.2d 351, 354 (Ct. App.
clear and convincing evidence supports TPR based on Child
being in foster care for fifteen of the most recent
twenty-two months. See S.C. Code Ann. §
63-7-2570(8) (Supp. 2016) ("The family court may order
[TPR] upon a finding . . . [t]he child has been in foster
care under the responsibility of the State for fifteen of the
most recent twenty-two months."). The Department of
Social Services (DSS) presented evidence Child entered foster
care on May 1, 2015, and remained in foster care continuously
through the TPR hearing on November 3, 2016. Additionally,
there was no evidence DSS prolonged Child's stay in
foster care. S.C. Dep't of Soc. Servs. v. Sarah
W., 402 S.C. 324, 336, 741 S.E.2d 739, 746 (2013)
("[S]ection 63- 7-2570(8) may not be used to sever
parental rights based solely on the fact that the child has
spent fifteen of the past twenty-two months in foster care.
The family court must find that severance is in the best
interests of the child, and that the delay in reunification
of the family unit is attributable not to mistakes by the
government, but to the parent's inability to provide an
environment where the child will be nourished and
protected."). Accordingly, this court finds clear and
convincing evidence showed Child was in foster care fifteen
of the most recent twenty-two months.
we find the record does not contain information that is
critical for evaluating best interest. "The purpose of
[the TPR statute] is to establish procedures for the
reasonable and compassionate [TPR] where children are abused,
neglected, or abandoned in order to protect the health and
welfare of these children and make them eligible for adoption
. . . ." S.C. Code Ann. § 63-7-2510 (2010). In a
TPR case, the best interest of the child is the paramount
consideration. S.C. Dep't of Soc. Servs. v.
Smith, 343 S.C. 129, 133, 538 S.E.2d 285, 287 (Ct. App.
2000). "The interest of the child shall prevail if the
child's interest and the parental rights conflict."
S.C. Code Ann. § 63-7-2620 (2010). Here, Father did not
cause Child's removal. Father was unable to provide or
care for Child while incarcerated, but at the time of his
incarceration, Father did not know Mother was pregnant. At
the time of the TPR hearing, Father had not been convicted of
the charge for which he was incarcerated. Father demonstrated
a desire to improve himself and Child's life through
completion of his high school diploma and his involvement in
Cornerstone Ministries. Father's efforts to have Child
placed with Child's paternal grandmother and his requests
for photos and visitation with Child show his interest in
being a father to Child. Additionally, Father testified he
had a home for Child and a job to return to upon his release.
We find the disposition of Father's criminal charge and
his resulting sentence are critical information for
evaluating Child's best interest.
we note the GAL did not interview Father. See S.C.
Code § 63-3-830 (2010) ("An investigation must
include, but is not limited to . . . (d) interviewing parents
. . . ."). In other cases, this court has expressed
confusion about how a GAL can recommend TPR without talking
to a parent. See Charleston Cty. Dep't of Soc. Servs.
v. Jackson, 368 S.C. 87, 103, 627 S.E.2d 765, 774 (Ct.
App. 2006) ("Child's GAL recommended terminating
Father's parental rights without talking to Child about
Father's existence and without talking to Father at all.
Under these circumstances, we do not understand how
Child's GAL can recommend TPR without any investigation
into the situation between Child and his natural
father."); cf. S.C. Dep't of Soc. Servs. v.
Nelson, 419 S.C. 142, 147, 795 S.E.2d 871, ...