In re S.D.C., ___ N.C. ___ (Jan. 24. 2020)

Held: 
Affirmed
  • Facts: This TPR results from an underlying neglect and dependency action. In that action, the child’s paternal grandmother had been identified as a potential relative placement, was not recommended by DSS, and was not ordered as a placement. The child remained in DSS custody. After a year, the concurrent permanent plans were changed to a primary plan of adoption and secondary plan of reunification with respondent father, and DSS was ordered to initiate a TPR. After a hearing, respondent father’s parental rights were terminated. He appeals, raising as the sole issue that the trial court abused its discretion when concluding the TPR was in the child’s best interests arguing that the trial court did not adequately consider whether the child could be placed with a relative.
  • Standard of review: At the dispositional stage of a TPR, the court determines whether the TPR is in the child’s best interests and looks to G.S. 7B-1110(a). The standard of review is abuse of discretion, which is when the trial “court’s ruling is manifestly unsupported by reason or is so arbitrary that it could not have been the result of a reasoned decision.” Sl.Op. at 8.
  • Availability of Relative Placement:  Unlike an abuse, neglect, or dependency action where the trial court is required to consider the availability of a relative placement, the trial court is not expressly directed to consider the availability of a relative placement in a TPR. The trial court may treat that issue as a “relevant consideration” when determining best interests, which will depend on the particular proceeding and the extent to which the record contains evidence that tends to show whether a relative placement is, in fact, available. See G.S. 7B-1110(a)(6).
  • Evidence and Relevant Factor: If at the TPR hearing, conflicting evidence about the availability of a potential relative placement is presented, “the trial court should make findings of fact addressing ‘the competing goals of (1) preserving the ties between the children and their biological relatives; and (2) achieving permanency for the children as offered by their prospective adoptive family.’ ” Sl.Op. at 9. If “the record does not contain any evidence tending to show the availability of a potential relative placement, the trial court need not consider or make findings of fact considering that issue.” Id.
  • Evidence and Findings: The record of the TPR did not contain evidence tending to show that a potential relative placement was available for the child. Although the underlying neglect and dependency adjudication order and initial dispositional order that identified the grandmother as a potential relative placement option was admitted, that dispositional order and subsequent permanency planning orders had determined that the child’s best interests were served by remaining in DSS custody versus being placed with the relative. “Thus, we have no hesitation in concluding that [the child’s] potential placement with a relative was not a fact that the trial court was required to consider or make findings about during the dispositional phase of this termination of parental rights proceeding.” Sl.Op. at 10
Category:
Termination of Parental Rights
Stage:
Disposition
Topic:
Best Interests Findings
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