In re J.D.C.H., ___ N.C. ___ (Sept. 25, 2020)

Held: 
Affirmed
  • Facts: This case involves a private TPR (mother as petitioner, father as respondent).  The parties have 2 children together. Father’s last contact with the children was September 2016. Mother remarried. Father was incarcerated from Oct. – Dec. 2018 and upon his release, he contacted mother to ask about seeing the children. Mother denied his request and filed a TPR petition, including willful abandonment as one ground. The court granted the TPR and father appeals, challenging the findings and conclusion of the ground of abandonment.
  • G.S. 7B-1111(a)(7) authorizes the termination of parental rights when the parent has willfully abandoned the child for at least 6 months immediately preceding the filing of the TPR petition. Abandonment involves a parent’s conduct that manifests a willful determination to forego all parental duties and claims and includes withholding his presence, love, care, opportunity to display filial affection, and support/maintenance.
  • Although the determinative time period is those 6 months before the petition is filed, a trial court may consider the parent’s conduct outside of that 6-month period to evaluate the parent’s credibility and intentions. That includes the parent’s conduct after the filing of the TPR petition.
  • One single act during the determinative time period, the father’s phone call in December 2018, does not preclude a finding that a parent willfully abandoned his children by withholding his love and affection. The findings that father did not send any letters to or call the children and did not provide any emotional, material, or financial support over a 2-year period when he had the ability to do so support the court’s conclusion. Although he made the one phone call during the 6-month period, “it is not necessary that a parent absent himself continuously from the child for the specified six months, nor even that he cease to feel any concern for its interest.” Sl.Op. at 15 (quotation omitted).
Category:
Termination of Parental Rights
Stage:
Adjudication
Topic:
Abandonment
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