In re M.E.S., 379 N.C. 275 (2021)

  • Facts: In 2015, a Chapter 50 permanent custody order awarded physical and legal custody of the minor child to mother and determined father could not have visitation until he satisfied certain conditions related to anger management, substance abuse, and treatment. Father was ordered to pay child support. In 2019, mother filed a TPR petition based on willful abandonment and willful failure to pay child support. The TPR was granted, and father appeals, challenging the grounds.
  • G.S. 7B-1111(a)(7) authorizes a TPR on the ground of willful abandonment for the 6 consecutive months immediately preceding the filing of the TPR petition. Abandonment involves a parent withholding his presence, love, care and opportunity to display filial affection and willfully failing to support the child such that the parent relinquishes all parental claims to the child. Willfulness is an integral part of abandonment. The determinative time period is the 6 months immediately preceding the filing of the TPR petition, but a court may consider the parent’s conduct outside of that period when determining the parent’s credibility and intentions.
  • The findings are supported by clear and convincing evidence and support the conclusion of abandonment. The court determined the credibility of the witnesses and made findings regarding father not providing gifts to the child. Father did not seek to modify the custody order for visitation. Father was not prohibited from having contact with his child and father was aware of mother’s contact information and her family members’ contact information, yet he did not attempt to communicate with or about his daughter. Father never paid more than 1/3 of his child support obligation.
Termination of Parental Rights
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