In re I.R.L., ___ N.C. App. ___, 823 S.E.2d 902 (2019)

Held: 
Vacated and Remanded in Part
  • Facts: I.R.L. was born in 2014. Mother and father lived with I.R.L. for 3 months in 2015 until mother and child moved out of the home. In April 2016, mother obtained a one-year DVPO against father, which prohibited contact with mother but did not forbid contact with any minor child residing with mother. On March 20, 2017, one month before the DVPO expired, father filed a complaint for visitation with I.R.L. and mother filed a TPR petition against father alleging father had not contacted or seen I.R.L. and had not paid any financial support since 2015. The TPR was granted on the grounds of failing to pay child support and abandonment. Father appeals.
  • G.S. 7B-1111(a)(7) requires that the parent has willfully abandoned the child for at least 6 consecutive months immediately preceding the filing of the TPR petition. During the relevant time period, Sept. 20, 2016 to Mar. 20, 2017, the court found (1) the father had not seen the child, inquired about the child, or provided substantial financial support for the child, (2) there was a DVPO against father for one year, and (3) father filed for visitation on Mar. 20, 2017. There were no findings addressing the willfulness of father’s conduct, which is a required element of the ground. Because of the DVPO, the willfulness finding was especially important since any communication, gifts, or requests to visit the 3-year-old child would have had to been directed to mother, who father was specifically prohibited from contacting. The findings were inadequate to support the conclusion that father willfully abandoned the child.
  • Vacated and remanded to make appropriate findings.
Category:
Termination of Parental Rights
Stage:
Adjudication
Topic:
Abandonment
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