In re N.H., ___ N.C. App. ___, 804 S.E.2d 841 (2017)

Held: 
Affirmed
There is a dissent
. There is also a concurrence.
  • G.S. 7B-600(c) and -906.1(j) require that before the court appoints a guardian to the juvenile, it must verify that the person being appointed as the guardian understands the legal significance of the appointment and will have adequate resources to appropriately care for the juvenile. The court is not required to make detailed findings of evidentiary facts, but there must be some evidence of the guardian’s resources for the court to make its determination of adequacy. The court may consider any evidence that it finds to be relevant, reliable, and necessary to determine the juvenile’s needs and the most appropriate disposition. G.S. 7B-906.1(c).
  • In its opinion, the court of appeals “acknowledge that our case law addresses this situation from numerous angles, none of them directly on point” and cites to several different cases with different holdings.”
  • Evidence of Resources: There were 2 GAL reports that stated the proposed guardian was employed with the school district, and one report specified her job as a bus driver and stated she was without income during the summer. There was 1 DSS report that stated respondent mother provided $30 to the proposed guardian and DSS provided gift cards of $30 per month to assist with purchasing food and gas when the proposed guardian was experiencing financial difficulties. The proposed guardian provided sworn testimony that she was employed at the school district, that she had money to cover her household bills, that she had been unable to work the past summer because of the child’s intensive in-home therapy but that she was able to get through almost all of the summer because she had saved money, and that her plan for next summer was to save money and she had family and was aware of community resources she could to turn to for financial help if needed. There was no evidence of the proposed guardian’s actual income.
  • Opinion: The sworn testimony from the proposed guardian that she was willing to care for the child and has the financial resources to do so was competent evidence that supported the court’s determination that the proposed guardian has adequate resources to appropriately care for the juvenile. The opinion distinguishes the sworn testimony from In re P.A., 241 N.C. App. 53 (2015), which involved unsworn testimony from the proposed guardian, and In re J.H., 780 S.E. 2d 228 (2015) in which there was no testimony from the proposed guardians.
  • Concurrence:  G.S. 7B-906.1(j) requires the court to find the proposed guardian will have adequate resources to appropriately care for the juvenile. The issue is whether there is sufficient evidence before the trial court to determine if the proposed guardian will have adequate resources to care for the child in the future. Although the sufficiency of the evidence in this case is a “close question”, there was evidence that the proposed guardian’s current income was adequate to care for the child moving forward. The proposed guardian testified that she was employed, that her income was sufficient to cover her expenses in caring for the child, and there was some money left for savings. Similar to In re J.E., 182 N.C. App. 612 (2007), the testimony about her job and income (although there were no specifics about the income) were more than the proposed guardian’s conclusory statement about whether her resources were adequate. Distinguishing the 3 cases cited by the dissent, which involved evidence about the past without any evidence of current resources to care for the child and a conclusory statement about the proposed guardian’s financial ability to care for the child.
  • Dissent: The GAL and DSS reports and testimony from the proposed guardian support the conclusion that she lacked the financial resources to care for the child, which is the opposite conclusion reached by the trial court. The evidence unambiguously showed she struggled financially while caring for the child. The proposed guardian’s own opinion without more was insufficient to support the court’s conclusion. See In re P.A., 241 N.C. App. 53 (2015). 

 

Category:
Abuse, Neglect, Dependency
Stage:
Disposition (All Stages Post-Adjudication)
Topic:
Guardianship
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