In re D.M., 375 N.C. 761 (2020)

  • Facts: The children were adjudicated neglected juveniles due to circumstances involving their parents’ substance use and domestic violence, and improper supervision. The case plan requirements for the parents addressed these issues as well as mental health services, parenting classes, and obtaining appropriate housing. Eventually, DSS filed a TPR motion. The TPR was granted on the grounds of neglect and failure to make reasonable progress. This opinion focuses on the ground of neglect and has an extensive discussion about evidence and findings regarding progress (or lack thereof) addressing substance abuse and domestic violence.
  • Neglect requires a showing of neglect as defined by G.S. 7B-101(15) at the time of the TPR hearing (current neglect) or if the child has been separated from the parent for a long period of time, a TPR for neglect must be based on a showing of past neglect and a likelihood of future neglect by considering the evidence of changed circumstances given the history of neglect by the parents between the time of the past neglect and the TPR hearing.
  • The findings support the court’s determination that there was a likelihood of neglect. Portions of challenged findings that were not supported by the evidence were disregarded by the appellate court. The unchallenged findings include father’s extensive history of substance abuse which he did not start treatment for until after the TPR was filed and the hearings had begun. The findings of the extensive history of domestic violence and that father never started the recommended therapy is adequate evidence that father lacked an awareness of the effect of domestic violence on children. His own admission or expert witness testimony was not required.
  • The findings addressing mother’s failure to adequately address her extensive substance abuse and domestic violence issues were supported by the evidence, and those findings support the determination of a likelihood of neglect.  Although there is some evidence that might support a contrary decision, the appellate courts “lack the authority to reweigh the evidence that was before the trial court.” Sl.Op. at 29.
  • The findings for each parent that address the central reasons for DSS intervention – substance abuse and domestic violence – are sufficient to support the determination of the likelihood of repetition of neglect. As such, the supreme court did not review challenges to the findings about the trial court not adequately addressing their mental health and housing issues.
Termination of Parental Rights
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