In re E.H.P., 372 N.C. 388 (2019)

  • Facts: In 2013, a temporary custody order was entered awarding mother sole temporary custody and providing that father shall have no contact with the children until allowed by further order of the court. No motions were filed to seek a change in that temporary custody order. In 2018, mother petitioned for and obtained a TPR against respondent father. Father appealed on both the grounds (willful abandonment under G.S. 7B-1111(a)(7) and failure to pay child support) and disposition that is was in the children’s best interests.
  • The standard of review for a TPR adjudication is whether the findings are supported by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence and the finding support the conclusions of law. The disposition is reviewed for an abuse of discretion.
  • “Abandonment implies conduct on the part of a parent which manifests a willful determination to forego all parental duties and relinquish all parental claims to the child.” Sl. Op. at 7 (citations omitted). “It has been held that if a parent withholds his presence, his love, his care, the opportunity to display filial affection, and willfully neglects to lend support and maintenance, such parent relinquishes all parental claims and abandons the child.” Sl. Op. at 8 (citations omitted). Here, respondent concedes he had no contact with the children during the determinative 6-month time period under G.S. 7B-1111(a)(7). Although there was a temporary custody order forbidding contact between him and the children, father made no effort to modify the terms of the temporary order to allow contact between him and the children. “A temporary custody order is by definition provisional, and the order at issue here expressly contemplated the possibility that the no-contact provision would be modified in a future order.” Sl. Op. at 9-10. Although father was incarcerated during the relevant time period, he was aware of his ability to seek relief from trial court orders as he filed a motion to suspend his child support. Father’s conduct is sufficient to meet the standard of willful abandonment.
  • An adjudication of a single ground under G.S. 7B-1111(a) is sufficient to support a TPR. Having affirmed one ground, the court need not address the appeal on the ground of willful failure to pay child support.
  • At disposition, the court made detailed findings addressing the criteria of G.S. 7B-1110(a) include the bond with and strong likelihood of adoption by their stepfather and the lack of bond with their father. There was no abuse of discretion in determining the TPR is in the children’s best interests.
Termination of Parental Rights
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