In re L.T., 374 N.C. 567 (2020)

  • Facts: DSS filed a neglect and dependency petition in March 2017. At that time, mother lived in Ohio, and the juvenile lived with respondent-father in North Carolina. In June 2017, the court continued the adjudication hearing for investigation into whether it had jurisdiction after being informed that there was a prior custody order from Delaware and finding that the child had not lived in NC for 6 months prior to the filing of N/D petition based on the information provided. In September 2017, the court entered an adjudication order after finding that neither parent nor the child resided in Delaware and that the child had been residing in NC with her father since September 2016, giving NC jurisdiction under the UCCJEA. In September 2018, DSS filed a motion to TPR, which was granted. Respondent father appeals arguing the court did not comply with the UCCJEA in the underlying N/D action, making the custody order to DSS void such that DSS did not have standing to file the TPR.
  • Burden: The NC Supreme Court “presumes the trial court has properly exercised jurisdiction unless the party challenging jurisdiction meets its burden of showing otherwise.” Sl.Op. at 3. That burden was not satisfied here.
  • Modification Jurisdiction under G.S. 50A-203 requires that NC must have jurisdiction to make an initial child-custody determination (e.g., home state) and that one of the two enumerated statutory factors are met. In this case, it is undisputed that the child and her parents did not presently reside in Delaware, the state that made the initial custody determination. The appellate issue involves whether NC was the child’s home state at the time the N/D petition was filed.
  • Findings Not Required: “The trial court is not required to make specific findings of fact demonstrating its jurisdiction under the UCCJEA, but the record must reflect the jurisdictional prerequisites in the [UCCEA] were satisfied when the court exercised jurisdiction.” Sl. Op. at 3. Although the district court made a finding in its N/D continuance order that the child did not reside in NC for 6 months, suggesting NC was not the child’s home state, that finding was based on preliminary information that was superseded by more accurate information when the case proceeded. The finding in the adjudication order that the child resided in NC since September 2016 was made by clear and convincing evidence, based on evidence in the record, specifically, the father’s testimony. The record shows the child had resided in NC for more than six months when the N/D petition was filed, making NC her home state and giving the NC court modification jurisdiction.
Subject Matter Jurisdiction
Modification Jurisdiction
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