In re N.W., 381 N.C. 851 (2022)

  • Facts: Mother filed a TPR petition against father alleging willful abandonment. In 2016, mother obtained a DVPO in Kentucky that prohibited father from contacting mother and children, which mother had extended until October 2020. Also in 2016, the parties agreed to a custody and visitation order in Kentucky with mother having sole custody and father being allowed to seek a review for visits and contact with the children one year later after he completed recommendations. Father was ordered to pay $1500/month in child support. In 2018, mother and children moved to NC. Father filed a motion to seek to have supervised visits but the Kentucky court declined to exercise jurisdiction. In 2020, father moved to NC and filed a petition to have the KY order registered in NC. One month later, mother filed the TPR petition. Father filed an answer, and after a hearing, the court dismissed the TPR for failure to prove willful abandonment. Mother appeals.
  • The burden of proof is on the petitioner and the evidentiary standard is clear, cogent, and convincing evidence. G.S. 7B-1109.
  • G.S. 7B-1111(a)((7) authorizes a TPR when a parent has willfully abandoned their child for the 6 months immediately preceding the filing of the TPR petition. Abandonment involves a parent’s conduct that “manifests a willful determination to forego all parental duties and relinquish all parental claims to the child.” 381 N.C. at 855. Willfulness is a question of fact. The determinative period is the 6 months immediately preceding the filing of the petition, but the court may consider conduct outside this window to determine credibility and intentions.
  • During the 6-month period, father paid child support through a wage withholding and sought to have the KY custody order registered in NC. These actions alone are not definitive indicators of a parent’s intent to stay in their child’s life, but the court’s findings of father’s actions outside of the determinative period show father’s attempt to become involved with his children. Father was prohibited from having contact with the mother and children, complied with the recommendations of the KY custody order, and attempted to have the ability to have contact with his children.
Termination of Parental Rights
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