FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF JASPER COUNTY Honorable Joseph L.
Hensley, Associate Circuit Judge
STEFFEN RAHMEYER, J.
("Mother") and W.H.D. ("Father') are the
parents of three children: H.H.D., a male child who was born
in May 2000; R.N.D., a female minor child who was born in
December 2001; and S.F.D., a female minor child who was born
in April 2003 (collectively "the Children"). Mother
and Father divorced on November 9, 2007. At that time, the
trial court granted the parties joint legal and joint
physical custody of the Children, with Father's residence
designated for mailing and educational purposes. The trial
court ordered Mother to pay $672.00 per month in child
support beginning April 2, 2008. On February 21, 2008, Father
filed a Motion to Modify and Mother filed a Counter-Motion to
Modify on October 10, 2008. The modification was heard on
November 6, 2009. Mother did not appear, was unrepresented,
and she had moved to the state of Ohio. The court, on January
27, 2010, entered judgment and modified the custodial order
granting Father, who was married to "Amanda" at the
time of the hearing, sole legal and sole physical custody of
the Children, "subject to the right of reasonable
visitation by Mother in accordance with Father's
Parenting Plan." The parenting plan in the modified
judgment was set up for a significant geographical distance
between Mother and Father.
and Amanda divorced in 2013. Father married the Petitioner,
S.G.D. ("Step-Mother"), in March of 2015.
Step-Mother brought three children into the marriage. The
court denied the termination of Mother's rights to
S.F.D., but terminated Mother's parental rights to R.N.D.
and granted the step-parent adoption for R.N.D. on the
grounds that Mother had abandoned R.N.D. We affirm the
judgment in part and reverse and remand in part.
is a registered nurse and Father is a medical doctor. All
three children have autism spectrum diagnoses,  though H.H.D. and
S.F.D. are extremely high functioning. R.N.D., on the other
hand, suffers a severe form of autism and will likely never
be able to live independently. R.N.D. is on a "Sarah
Lopez Waiver, " which allows R.N.D. to be placed on
Missouri Medicaid. R.N.D. is unable to be at home by herself,
prepare her own food, and eat without oversight. She
"perseverates" over things, such as food. Further,
R.N.D. needs prompts and reminders for safety with cleaning,
bathing, showering. She has a personal care assistant who
works in the home of Father and Step-Mother. In addition, she
has a service dog to help keep her calm.
moved back to the Carl Junction area in October of 2010. At
that time, the parties, without a court modification, began
practicing an every-other weekend visitation schedule with
the Children. In September 2015, this practice ended and
Mother ceased visitation with R.N.D. Mother claimed Father
told her "[i]t's very apparent you cannot handle
[R.N.D.], and you will not be seeing her for some time."
Father claims that Mother called him during one of
R.N.D.'s meltdowns, and that Mother told him to
"never bring her back and that [Step-Mother] and
[Father] needed to pay for the damage that our daughter
caused to [Mother's] home." Mother did not make any
further attempts to see R.N.D. until March 1,
2017, Mother sent the Children Easter cards. On January 23,
2018, Mother sent a text message to S.F.D., which read:
"i have been tryi[n]g to get in touch with you. Please
let me know you & [H.H.D.] & [R.N.D.] are doing ok. i
love u & miss you terribly! love, mom[.]" Beginning
March 1, 2018, Mother initiated contact with Father via text
messaging requesting visitation with all of the Children. The
dialogue between Mother and Father, from March 1, 2018
through March 31, 2018, was as follows:
On Thursday, March 1, 2018, Mother sent Father the following
"i would really like the opportunity to see the kids . .
. your thoughts?"
On Friday, March 2, 2018, Father replied:
"I've had a chance now to speak with both kids.
[S.F.D.] is not happy you involved her friends. Their parents
are also not happy. The kids have received your messages.
They do not want to respond at this time."
On Wednesday, March 7, 2018, Mother sent Father the following
"I want to star[t] visits in therapeutic setting with
[H.H.D.] [R.N.D.] & [S.F.D.]…what are ur
On Monday, March 19, 2018, Mother sent Father the following
"i want to star[t] visits in therapeutic setting with
[H.H.D., R.N.D. & S.F.D.] . . . what are ur
On Monday, March 19, 2018, Father replied:
"It's an unrealistic expectation for [R.N.D.]. I
spoke with the other two, they do not wish to do it."
On Thursday, March 29, 2018, Mother sent Father the following
"[Father, ] i'd really like to see the kids. will
you please encourage [H.H.D. & S.F.D.] to participate in
a therapeutic setting visit? also, i want to see [R.N.D.] in
a therapeutic setting which i don't feel is an
unrealistic expectation. can we discuss this? thanks!"
On Saturday, March 31, 2018, Mother sent Father the following
"please can we talk about visitation with HRS [sic] in a
therapeutic setting? i'd love to see them!"
refused all visitation, stating that H.H.D. and S.F.D. did
not want to visit Mother.
filed a Motion to Modify on April 9, 2018, and alleged that
Father has repeatedly denied her visitation with the
Children. On April 17th, Father and Step-Mother
filed a three-count Petition for Termination of Parental
Rights and Step-Parent Adoption on behalf of the Children,
asking the court to transfer legal custody of the Children to
Father and Step-Mother. On April 23, 2018, Father and
Step-Mother filed a Petition for Appointment of Guardian and
Conservator for R.N.D. and a Petition for Emergency
Appointment of Guardian and Conservator for R.N.D. Mother,
between May 8, 2018 and May 30, 2018, again initiated contact
with Father via text messaging requesting visitation with the
Children. The dialogue between Mother and Father, from May 8,
2018 through May 30, 2018, is as follows:
On Tuesday, May 8, 2018, Mother sent Father the following
text message: "i'd like to see all the kids sometime
on mother's day . . . can we talk about this?"
On Friday, May 11, 2018, Mother sent Father the following
text message: "i'd really like to settle all the
issues between us without having to go through court . . .
i'd prefer not to put the kids through it . . . and would
like for them to see us amicably coming to a resolution . . .
are u willing to talk to me about it?"
On Thursday, May 17, 2018, Mother sent Father the following
"when can i see all the kids for visitation?"
On Sunday, May 20, 2018, Mother sent Father the following
text message: "i'm sorry to learn of your cancer
diagnosis. i am praying for you and our children."
On Saturday, May 26, 2018, Mother sent Father the following
text message: "can we discuss therapeutic setting
visitation with all 3 kids?"
On Wednesday, May 30, 2018, Mother sent Father the following
"[Father, ] i'd like to see all the kids"
7, 2018, Mother filed a Motion for Therapeutic Visitations
regarding all the Children. Twelve days later, on June 19,
2018, Mother filed a Motion for Family Access Order
requesting visitation with the Children and for compensatory
visitation with the Children. In between and after the filing
of her motions, Mother again sent text messages to Father in
June requesting visitation in June and for visitation on the
Fourth of July. Step-Mother acknowledged she and Father
received Thanksgiving cards from Mother addressed to the
Children in 2018. Step-Mother testified she did not read
R.N.D. her card. Furthermore, Step-Mother acknowledged
receiving Christmas cards from Mother addressed to the
Children. Step-Mother admitted she did not read R.N.D. her
card, and that she (Step-Mother) threw it away.
September 20, 2018, the trial court consolidated all cases,
and scheduled Mother's Motion for Family Access to be
heard on November 14, 2018, and all other matters were
scheduled for trial on January 14, 15 and 16, 2019. On
November 14, 2018, the trial court heard evidence on
Mother's Motion for Family Access. After taking the
matter under advisement, the trial court entered an Order on
November 21, 2018, wherein the trial court stated "on an
interim basis, [Mother's] request for relief by way of
the family access and for therapeutic visits are denied,
pending further order from the [trial court] following the
January hearing." On January 14, 15 and 16, 2019, the
trial court heard evidence on the following cases:
• The juvenile/step-parent adoption (18AO-JU00131)
involving the termination of Mother's parental rights and
the adoption of R.N.D. and S.F.D. by Step-Mother;
• Two guardianship cases (18AP-PR00165 and
18AP-PR00166), which requested the trial court to appoint
Step-Mother as legal ...