In re J.M., ___ N.C. ___ (Feb. 28, 2020)

  • Facts: In 2016, respondent mother stipulated to facts that established the children were neglected based on a lack of proper care and supervision and an injurious environment. In 2017, a permanency planning order identified adoption as the primary plan and custody as a secondary plan. The trial court ordered that DSS not pursue a TPR so a home study for a possible kinship placement could be pursued. In 2018, after the possible placement was not approved, DSS filed a TPR petition, and the TPR was granted on four different grounds. Respondent mother appeals. This opinion focuses on the ground of failure to pay a reasonable portion of the cost of care while the children were in DSS custody. The children were in foster care from January 8, 2016 through the relevant 6-month period ending on July 10, 2018. The cost of care for each child was more than $400,000. In 2016, mother was ordered to pay $50/month in child support.
  • G.S. 1111(a)(3) authorizes a TPR when a parent has willfully failed for a continuous period of 6 months preceding the filing of a TPR to pay a reasonable portion of the care of their child’s care when the child has been placed in DSS custody and the parent has a physical and financial ability to pay. Cost of care is the amount it costs DSS to pay for the child’s care (e.g. foster care), and the parent pays the portion that is “fair, just and equitable based upon the parent’s ability or means to pay.” Sl.Op. at 8 (Citation omitted).
  • Findings support conclusion: During the determinative 6-month period, respondent mother paid nothing toward the children’s cost of care although she had an ability to pay more than zero as she was capable of working. Respondent mother was working at the start of the determinative time period prior to quitting her job, and although the person responsible for managing her Rx to address her mental health issues was unavailable during this period, there is nothing that indicates she could not have found an alternative provider. Her lapse in Rx is based on her own conduct. Mother was also subject to a valid court order for child support and made no efforts to modify or set aside that order.
Termination of Parental Rights
Failure to Pay Reasonable Cost of Care
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