In re E.P.-L.M., ___ N.C. App. ___ (Aug. 4, 2020)

Held: 
Affirmed in Part; Vacated in Part; and Remanded
  • Facts: Prior to DSS involvement, there was a Chapter 50 civil custody order that awarded joint physical custody to both parents, with the juvenile primarily living with mother as father had moved to Georgia. Mother and juvenile resided with maternal grandmother. DSS became involved when mother and grandmother made multiple reports of sexual abuse of the juvenile by the father. After multiple medical assessments and DSS and law enforcement investigations, none of the reports of sexual abuse were substantiated. During in-home services with DSS, mother refused to agree to a placement of the juvenile with paternal relatives. DSS filed a petition alleging abuse, neglect, and dependency based on mother’s substance abuse, housing, and repeated unsubstantiated reports of sexual abuse by the father. At hearing, DSS, the GAL, and father provided stipulations to the court; mother did not stipulate resulting in a hearing where the stipulations were admitted as well as testimony from the social worker, mother, and mother’s substance abuse counselor. The child was adjudicated all three alleged conditions. The court entered a dispositional order that awarded custody to father and supervised visitation both electronically and in person for mother through a modification of the Chapter 50 custody order based on a substantial change in circumstances and terminated its jurisdiction in the juvenile action through G.S. 7B-911. Mother appeals, challenging the adjudications based on stipulations, the 7B-911 order, and the visitation order.
  •  Standard of review at disposition is an abuse of discretion. “No party ‘bears the burden of proof in [dispositional] hearings, and the findings of fact need only be supported by sufficient competent evidence.’” Sl.Op. at 26 (quoting In re L.M.T., 367 N.C. 165, 180 (2013)).
  • G.S. 7B-911 and Modification of Ch. 50 Custody Order: When determining whether a substantial change in circumstances exists warranting a modification of an existing Ch. 50 custody order, the trial court is not required to literally examine the previous custody order. The trial court considers only those “events which occurred after the entry of the previous order… [which] prevent[s] relitigation of conduct and circumstances that antedate the prior custody order.” Sl.Op. at 24 (emphasis in opinion). Here, the trial court considered the events, specifically the child’s adjudications, after the most recent custody order. The evidence and findings of the juvenile’s adjudications based on mother’s actions are sufficient to support the conclusion that there was a substantial change in circumstances.

 

 

Category:
Abuse, Neglect, Dependency
Stage:
Terminate Jurisdiction
Topic:
G.S. 7B-911
Tags:
Click on a term below for additional case summaries tagged with the same term.