In re J.K.F., 379 N.C. 247 (2021)

  • Facts: In 2019, the juveniles were adjudicated neglected and placed in DSS custody. Mother signed a voluntary support agreement (VSA). After adoption was identified as the primary permanent plan, DSS filed a TPR motion. At the time of the TPR hearing, mother was homeless, unemployed, and not receiving treatment for her mental health and substance use issues. The court granted the TPR, and mother appeals.
  • G.S. 7B-1111(a)(3) authorizes a TPR when a juvenile has been placed in DSS custody or foster home and the parent has willfully failed to pay a reasonable portion of the cost of care for the six months immediately preceding the filing of the TPR despite having a physical and financial ability to do so. A parent pays that portion that is fair, just, and equitable based on the parent’s ability/means. A valid child support order or voluntary support agreement is evidence of the parent’s ability to pay.
  • The determinative time period is March 13, 2019 to September 13, 2019. Mother entered into the VSA during this time period, which is evidence of her ability to pay. A court is not required to make findings that address a parent’s income, employment, or capacity for income/employment when there is a valid child support order or VSA. There is no evidence mother was incarcerated during part of the time period. There is evidence that shows mother was employed during part of the time period – the GAL report from a prior review hearing the court took judicial notice of and mother’s testimony at the TPR hearing.
  • The location of the court’s willfulness finding in the conclusion of law, rather than the findings section “has no bearing on its efficacy.” 379 N.C. at 254.
Termination of Parental Rights
Failure to Pay Reasonable Cost of Care
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