In re C.A.H., 375 N.C. 750 (2020)

  • Facts: Mother filed a TPR petition against respondent father alleging three grounds. The TPR was granted, and respondent father appeals challenging the conclusion that grounds existed. This opinion focuses on the ground of willful abandonment.
  • G.S. 7B-1111(a)(7) authorizes a TPR when the parent has willfully abandoned the child for at least 6 consecutive months immediately preceding the filing of the TPR petition or motion. Abandonment implies conduct by the parent that manifests a willful determination to forego all parental duties and relinquish all parental claims to the child, which is demonstrated by withholding his presence, love, care, and opportunity to display filial affection and failure to pay support and maintenance. Willfulness is a question of fact. The court may consider the parent’s conduct outside of the determinative 6-month period when evaluating the parent’s credibility and intentions.
  • The determinative 6-month period is Oct. 25, 2018 to April 25, 2019. The court’s findings address a longer period that includes the child’s birth and the parties living together; their separation and mother’s obtaining a 1-year DVPO against respondent; a civil custody order awarding mother sole custody; father’s incarceration but upon his release date, the right to visit with the child and to pay a child support order; mother’s marriage and relocation to California with the child; father’s requesting visitation and not showing up in California for the scheduled visits; mother and child’s return to NC; father’s child support arrearages and need for a show cause order; father’s failure to seek a modification of the visitation; and after the TPR was filed,  two partial payments of child support and no attempts by respondent to communicate with petitioner about the child. During the 6-month period, the findings address father’s partial payment of one child support payment; failure to send money, gifts, cards, or other assistance; failure to contact mother or her husband despite have their phone numbers; and lack of contact with the child.
  • The findings support the conclusion of willful abandonment. The trial court determines credibility and the weight to give the evidence. The court determined respondent’s conduct during the determinative period was willful abandonment.
Termination of Parental Rights
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