In re S.E., ___ N.C. ___ (Feb. 28, 2020)

  • Facts: Four children were adjudicated abused, neglected, and dependent based on physical abuse, sexual abuse of one child, and domestic violence in the home. A permanency planning order identified adoption as the primary permanent plan for each of the children. DSS filed a petition to terminate respondent mother’s parental rights, which was granted on multiple grounds, including willfully failing to pay a reasonable portion of the cost of care for the children while they were placed in DSS custody. Respondent mother appealed.
  • Failing to Pay Reasonable Portion of Cost of Care: G.S. 7B-1111(a)(3) involves the juvenile’s placement in DSS custody and the parent’s willful failure to pay a reasonable portion of the cost of care for a continuous period of six month immediately preceding the filing of the TPR petition when the parent is physically and financially able to do so. The cost of care is the amount it costs DSS to care for the child, and the portion of the cost of care for a parent is that which “is fair, just and equitable based upon that parent’s ability or means to pay.”  Sl. Op. at 10. Mother paid nothing toward the cost of care despite being employed and having an ability to do so. Her argument that her failure to pay was not willful because she did not know she had to pay or how to pay is without merit. “The absence of a court order, notice, or knowledge of a requirement to pay support is not a defense to a parent’s obligation to pay reasonable costs, because parents have an inherent duty to support their children.” Id. Additionally, mother was on notice given the findings in each permanency planning order that respondent-parents were not paying child support.
Termination of Parental Rights
Failure to Pay Reasonable Cost of Care
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