In re N.C.E., 379 N.C. 283 (2021)

  • Facts: The juveniles were adjudicated neglected and dependent. After the primary permanent plan was identified as adoption, DSS filed a TPR petition, which was granted. At disposition, the maternal grandmother testified that she was willing to be a permanent placement for the children. Mother appeals, challenging the best interests determination.
  • The court considers the factors set forth at G.S. 7B-1110(a) when making a best interests determination in a TPR. Written findings are only required for factors that have conflicting evidence such that it is placed at issue before the trial court and are relevant. The appellate court reviews the findings under a competent evidence standard. The review is an abuse of discretion standard.
  • G.S. 7B-1110(a)(5) addressed the quality of the relationship between the child and the proposed adoptive parent or other permanent placement. The court found there was no information about the relationship because neither child was in a pre-adoptive placement. Although mother proposed her mother as a placement, the record shows no conflicting evidence about the quality of grandmother’s relationship with the children such that the court was not required to make a finding on this issue.
  • Under G.S. 7B-1110(a)(6), “any relevant consideration,” the availability of a relative placement may be considered. “The extent to which it is appropriate to do so in any particular proceeding [is] dependent upon the extent to which the record contains evidence tending to show whether such a relative placement is, in fact, available.” 379 N.C. at 288. Mother’s proposed placement with the maternal great-grandmother was unavailable as the court had previously chosen not to place the children with her at prior hearings in the underlying action and there was no evidence that great-grandmother was willing and able to provide a permanent home for the children. Further, the great-grandmother was not proposed as a placement at the TPR dispositional hearing. Regarding placement with the grandmother, the court’s findings that grandmother believed mother was a good mother and blamed everyone other than mother is supported by grandmother’s testimony at the dispositional hearing. The court has authority to determine the credibility of witnesses, the weight to give their testimony, and the reasonable inferences to draw.
  • Although placement with relatives is preferred, that is at disposition in the underlying A/N/D action; a TPR is a separate and distinct proceeding. TPRs are governed by Article 11 of the Juvenile Code (not Article 9 – dispositions in A/N/D) and there is no priority for relative placements. The focus is on the best interests of the child. The trial court has discretion to determine the weight to give competing factors in G.S. 7B-1110(a), including the “any relevant consideration” factor, when determining the child’s best interests. The court did not abuse its discretion in determining the TPR was in the children’s best interests.
Termination of Parental Rights
Best Interests Findings
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