In re N.B., 379 N.C. 441 (2021)

  • Facts: The juvenile was adjudicated neglected and dependent due to circumstances involving mother’s substance use, violence by mother’s boyfriend, and the juvenile’s self-harm. Although mother requested visitation during the underlying juvenile action, the court denied her request due to her positive drug screens and recommendations from the child’s therapist that the child had to first work through her extensive trauma history. DSS filed a TPR petition, which was granted. Mother appeals, challenging the best interests determination.
  • At disposition, the court considers the factors in G.S. 7B-1110(a). The findings that there was not a strong bond between mother and child were supported by the evidence, including the child’s therapist’s testimony. The court had the discretion to determine the weight to give the factors.
  • The court complied with the Juvenile Code when “fast-track[ing]” the case as it relieved DSS of reunification efforts at initial disposition under G.S. 7B-901(c)(1)(b) and (e). Although mother argues the parent-child bond was impacted by the juvenile dispositional orders limiting mother’s ability to see her child and the TPR dispositional hearing was required to be delayed, the cases mother cites to regarding insufficient time to meet the burden to TPR apply to the grounds which address parental fault and not the best interests determination after a ground has been proved. The dispositional stage focuses on the child’s best interests. Any delay in holding the dispositional hearing was not supported by evidence and relates only to one of the dispositional factors, the parent-child bond. The trial court properly made its findings based on the evidence, which included evidence of the parent-child bond at the time of the TPR hearing. There was no error in holding the dispositional hearing after grounds were adjudicated, and the Juvenile Code does not require such a delay.
  • The consideration of non-TPR-related dispositional alternatives at the TPR dispositional hearing is not required.
Termination of Parental Rights
Best Interests Findings
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