In re J.A.J., 381 N.C. 761 (2022)

Held: 
Affirmed
  • Facts: In 2019, the juveniles were adjudicated neglected and dependent in part due to circumstances involving mother’s substance use and mental health issues. Mother’s psychological evaluation showed her prognosis for significant and lasting behavior change as poor. Mother’s contact with the children was ceased due to her behaviors. DSS filed TPR petitions in 2020. The TPR was granted, and each parent appeals. One of mother’s challenges is that the court erred in not appointing mother a Rule 17 GAL.
  • G.S. 7B-1101.1(c) allows the court to appoint a Rule 17 GAL for a parent who is incompetent. An incompetent adult lacks the ability to manage their own affairs or communicate important decisions. When there is a substantial question as to whether a parent is incompetent, the court must make a proper inquiry in a hearing. The court may consider the nature and extent of the parent’s diagnosis made by mental health professionals and how the parent behaves in the courtroom. The standard of review is an abuse of discretion and “except in the most extreme instances,” the trial court should not “be held to have abused its discretion by failing to inquire into that litigant’s competence.” 381 N.C. at 768 (citation omitted).
  • Mother participated in the hearings: she entered stipulations; denied allegations; made progress on her case plan; engaged in a psychological evaluation; and although making extemporaneous interjections during witness testimony at the hearing, those interjections demonstrated her understanding of the issues being addressed. The court did not abuse its discretion in not holding a hearing to determine mother’s competency.
Category:
Termination of Parental Rights
Stage:
GAL for Respondent Parent
Topic:
Incompetent
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