Appeal from the County Court for Seward County:
GERALD E. ROUSE, Judge.
Jerrod P. Jaeger, of
Jaeger Law Office, P.C., L.L.O., for appellant.
Eric J. Williams for appellee.
Gregory C. Damman, of Blevens & Damman, guardian ad litem.
Inbody, Chief Judge, and Irwin and Riedmann, Judges.
Syllabus by the Court
1. Juvenile Courts: Appeal and Error. Juvenile cases are reviewed de novo on the record, and an appellate court is required to reach a conclusion independent of the juvenile court's findings.
2. Evidence: Appeal and Error. When the evidence is in conflict, an appellate court may consider and give weight to the fact that the trial court observed the witnesses and accepted one version of the facts over the other.
3. Parental Rights: Evidence: Proof. For a juvenile court to terminate
parental rights under Neb.Rev.Stat. § 43-292 (Cum.Supp.2012), it must find that one or more of the statutory grounds listed in that section have been satisfied and that termination is in the child's best interests.
4. Evidence: Words and Phrases. Clear and convincing evidence is that amount of evidence which produces in the trier of fact a firm belief or conviction about the existence of the fact to be proved.
5. Parental Rights: Evidence: Appeal and Error. If an appellate court determines that the lower court correctly found that termination of parental rights is appropriate under one of the statutory grounds set forth in Neb.Rev.Stat. § 43-292 (Cum.Supp.2012), the appellate court need not further address the sufficiency of the evidence to support termination under any other statutory ground.
6. Parental Rights. One need not have physical possession of a child to demonstrate the existence of the neglect contemplated by Neb.Rev.Stat. § 43-292(2) (Cum.Supp.2012).
7. Parental Rights: Proof. In addition to proving a statutory ground for termination of parental rights, the State must show that termination is in the best interests of the child.
8. Constitutional Law: Parental Rights: Proof. A parent's right to raise his or her child is constitutionally protected; so before a court may terminate parental rights, the State must also show that the parent is unfit.
9. Parental Rights: Presumptions: Proof. There is a rebuttable presumption that the best interests of a child are served by having a relationship with his or her parent. Based on the idea that fit parents act in the best interests of their children, this presumption is overcome only when the State has proved that the parent is unfit.
10. Parental Rights: Words and Phrases. Although the term " unfitness" is not expressly used in Neb.Rev.Stat. § 43-292 (Cum.Supp.2012), the concept is generally encompassed by the fault and neglect subsections of that statute and through a determination of the child's best interests.
11. Parental Rights: Words and Phrases. Parental unfitness means a personal deficiency or incapacity which has prevented, or will probably prevent, performance of a reasonable parental obligation in child rearing and which has caused, or probably will result in, detriment to a child's well-being.
[21 Neb.App. 552] 12. Parental Rights. The best interests analysis and the parental fitness analysis are fact-intensive inquiries, and although they are separate inquiries, each examines essentially the same underlying facts as the other.
13. Parental Rights. The best interests of a child require termination of parental rights when a parent is unable or unwilling to rehabilitate ...