In re S.C.L.R., 2021-NCSC-101

Held: 
Affirmed in Part
Reversed in Part
There is a dissent
Earls, J. joined by Ervin, J. (regarding affirming mother's TPR)
  • G.S. 7B-1111(a)(7) authorizes a TPR when a parent willfully abandons their child for 6 months immediately preceding the filing of the TPR. Willfulness is a question of fact. Abandonment involves a parent’s intent to forego all parental duties and claims by withholding their love, care, guidance, presence, affection, and support.
  • Although the determination of the mother’s willfulness was included in the conclusions of law, the appellate court applies the appropriate standard of review to a finding or conclusion. It is immaterial that willfulness was in the conclusions versus findings.
  • The evidence, including testimony from petitioner and respondent mother, supports the court’s findings by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence. Mother’s lack of conduct toward her child reflected the court’s findings that she failed to do anything to express her love, affection, and concern for her child during the determinative time period. She had no contact with her child and did not provide any support. The reason for mother’s actions was her willfulness and no findings regarding impediments were required. “Abandonment is not an ambulatory thing the legal effects of which a delinquent parent may dissipate at will by the expression of a desire for the return of a discarded child.” Sl.Op. ¶27 (citation omitted).
  • Findings as to father’s willfulness is unsupported by the evidence. Petitioner testified that father has talked with him about his daughter within the 6 month period. Father testified he talks with his child when she visits with his mother (child’s grandmother) and occasionally sees his daughter when his own mother (child’s grandmother) visits.
  • Dissent: The findings do not support the conclusion that mother’s conduct was willful. Abandonment, as opposed to willful abandonment, is not a ground to TPR under G.S. 7B-1111(a)(7).
Category:
Termination of Parental Rights
Stage:
Adjudication
Topic:
Abandonment
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