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= &n= bsp; &nbs= p; = &n= bsp; ENTRY ORDER
= &n= bsp; &nbs= p; = &n= bsp; APRIL TERM, 2005
= &n= bsp; &nbs= p; = &n= bsp; &nbs= p; } = Caledonia Family Court
} DOCKET NO= . 63/64-9-03 Cajv
Trial Judge: Stephen= B. Martin
= ; &= nbsp; &nb= sp; In the above-entitled cause, the Clerk will enter:
Mother appeals from the family court’s order terminating her residual paren= tal rights over T.B. and T.B. She argues that, although she agreed to relinquish her residual rights, she di= d not do so knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily. We affirm.
is the biological parent of T.B., born in March 1998, and T.B., born in Ma=
2002. In August 2003, the children were adjudicated as children in need of=
and supervision. The disposi=
report recommended that the children continue in State custody with the go=
reunification with mother if no termination petition was filed. In March 2004, the Department for
Children and Families filed a motion to terminate mother’s residual
parental rights. At the hear=
the motion, mother, represented by counsel, agreed to relinquish her resid=
parental rights. She execute=
agreement to this effect, as well as a supporting affidavit and waiver.
August 2004, the court issued an order, based on her agreement and affidav=
terminating mother’s residual parental rights. The court found that mother had e=
the agreement voluntarily and without threat or promise. It found that mother had understo=
by her agreement, and the court’s order terminating her rights, she =
have no further legal right to visitation or contact with the children.
In September 2004, more than thirty-days after the court’s order was entered, mother filed a pro se letter with the family court, asserting tha= t at the time she signed the agreement, affidavit, and waiver, she was scared a= nd confused, and she didn’t know what she was doing. She stated that she did not have = a good lawyer, and she had been taken advantage of by the State. She concluded her letter by stati= ng, “I need to appeal this decision,” and the family court treated the letter as a notice of appeal. After the notice was forwarded to this Court, an attorney for mother asked that the letter be treated as a motion to vacate or set aside the family court’s order,= and he requested that the matter be transferred to the family court so that it could consider the motion. As mother’s attorney explained, the letter raised “issues that on= ly can be dealt with effectively by the family court.” We granted mother’s request= , and transferred the matter to the family court. The family court scheduled a hear= ing on the motion, and provided mother with notice. Mother failed to appear at the he= aring, however, and the family court dismissed her motion. Mother then indicated that she in= tended to pursue her appeal with this Court.&nbs= p;
Mother now argues that the court erred by accepting her agreement to relinquish h= er residual parental rights because she did not knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waive her constitutional right to family integrity. In support of this argument, moth= er maintains that: (1) the record does not show that mother knew that she had= a constitutional right at stake and that DCF had the burden of proving its c= ase by clear and convincing evidence; (2) the record is ambiguous as to whether mother had adequate legal counsel, and had learned of her rights and DCF’s burden; (3) there is no evidence that mother was informed that= the children’s foster parents did not have authority over contact between mother and the children, and they might never have that authority; and (4)= the requirements of the Vermont Adoption Act, 15A V.S.A. § 1-101 et seq., apply to termination proceedings, and the requirements of that act were not followed.
aside that mother did not file a timely notice of appeal, she failed to
preserve her arguments by fa=
to adequately raise them below. Bull
v. Pinkham Eng’g Assocs., 170 Vt. 450, 459 (2000) (“Conten=
not raised or fairly presented to the trial court are not preserved for
appeal.”). Mother did =
object to the family court’s acceptance of her agreement at the
termination hearing, nor did she ever indicate that her decision was not
knowingly, intelligently, or voluntarily made. Indeed, she testified to the
opposite—she stated that she agreed to give up her rights because she
believed that it was in the children’s best interests, she testified=
she was not under the influence of any drugs that might affect her
decision-making abilities, and she stated that she was “sure” =
she wanted to give up her rights.
These sentiments are clearly set forth in the agreement, affidavit, and waiver,=
mother signed, and which were accepted into evidence without objection.
the discussion above, we note that the record amply supports the family
court’s finding that mother voluntarily agreed to give up her residu=
parental rights, with a full understanding of the ramifications of her
decision. In addition to the=
statements to this effect contained in the documents signed by mother, mot=
testified that she understood that by signing the affidavit in support of =
agreement to relinquish her rights, she was making a final decision, and c=
not change her mind. She sta=
that she was confident that she had made the right decision. Mother acknowledged signing a wai=
giving up her right to further notice and appearance with regard to hearin=
involving the children, and she testified that she understood that by sign=
the waiver, she would not receive any additional notices about hearings
involving the children. She =
that this was the decision that she wanted to make. Mother indicated that she had see=
document from the children’s foster parents, indicating that they
intended to allow her to con=
see the children. Mother sta=
that she understood that this document was not legally enforceable. Mother indicated that she was sat=
with her attorney, a statement that is also reflected in her signed
affidavit. The family court =
mother if she was making her decision of her own free will and whether she
believed her decision was in the children’s best interests. Mother responded affirmatively.
The court specifically asked moth=
she was satisfied that her action was in the children’s best interes=
and mother replied that it was. The
family court did not err in accepting mother’s agreement to relinqui=
her residual parental rights, and its decision that termination was in the
children’s best interests is supported by the evidence.
BY THE COURT:
John A. Dooley, Associate Justice
Denise R. Johnson, Associate Justice
Frederic W. Allen, Chief Ju= stice (Ret.),