In re N.M.H., 375 N.C. 637 (2020)

  • Facts: This TPR, which was initiated by mother against respondent father, was granted on the grounds of willful abandonment and neglect. Respondent father appeals, and the opinion focuses on the ground of willful abandonment.
  • G.S. 7B-1111(a)(7) authorizes a TPR when the parent has willfully abandoned the child for at least 6 consecutive months immediately preceding the filing of the TPR petition or motion. Abandonment implies conduct by the parent that manifests a willful determination to forego all parental duties and relinquish all parental claims to the child, which is demonstrated by withholding his presence, love, care, and opportunity to display filial affection and failure to pay support and maintenance. Willfulness is a question of fact. The court may consider the parent’s conduct outside of the determinative 6-month period when evaluating the parent’s credibility and intentions.
  • Although the trial court should have but did not use the word “willful” when addressing respondent’s conduct, when read in context and in evaluating the findings together, the order makes clear that the court applied the proper willfulness standard. The findings addressed the father’s lack of contact with petitioner and the child for 3 years before the filing of the petition despite having petitioner’s contact information as well as his failure to pursue court-ordered visitation, attempt to arrange for visitation, and failure to provide any tangible or financial support despite paying child support for his other children. The findings were supported by clear and convincing evidence and those findings support the conclusion of abandonment.
Termination of Parental Rights
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