In re R.D.H., III, ___ N.C. App. ___, 806 S.E.2d 706 (2017) (originally unpublished but subsequently published)

Held: 
Reversed and Remanded
  • The standard of review of a TPR ground is whether the trial court’s findings of fact are based on clear, cogent, and convincing evidence and whether the findings support the conclusions of law.
  • When the child has been adjudicated neglected and is not in the parent’s care, a legal conclusion of neglect for a TPR requires that the trial court determine neglect (as defined by G.S. 7B-101(15)) exists at the time of the TPR proceeding. The trial court must consider evidence of changed conditions and determine there is a likelihood of future neglect.
  • Despite several unchallenged findings of fact that are binding on appeal, a challenged finding of fact related to the father’s knowledge that the child was exposed to substance abuse and violence in his mother’s care, was explicitly relied upon by the court in making its conclusion of neglect. That material finding is unsupported by the evidence.  Related to that finding, the circumstances in this case do not present a situation where the man should know he is likely the father of the child. The man and child’s mother had no relationship other than “casual meetings” that were sexual in nature, and the child is named after another man whom the mother identified as the possible father. It seems reasonable in these circumstances that the respondent waited until paternity testing result before beginning to take steps to gain custody of the child.
  • The trial court is not required to make a finding of fact on every piece of evidence, but it must address the likelihood of repetition of neglect based on evidence of the respondent’s current circumstances. In this case, there was evidence that at the time of the hearing the respondent desired that the child live with him and that he had a safe and stable home for the child to live in. There were no findings (positive or negative) about respondent’s home or ability to care for the child at the time of the TPR hearing. 
Category:
Termination of Parental Rights
Stage:
Adjudication
Topic:
Neglect
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