In re S.R., 384 N.C. 516 (2023)

  • Facts: This is a private TPR where mother petitioned to terminate father’s parental rights on the grounds of neglect, failure to pay child support, and willful abandonment. Findings addressed mother’s agenda of setting father up to not pay child support so that the ground to TPR was available. The TPR was denied on all three grounds. Petitioner appealed arguing that some findings were not supported by clear and convincing evidence and the conclusion that no grounds existed was not supported by the findings. The court of appeals affirmed. The supreme court granted a petition for discretionary review.
  • The standard of review of a TPR adjudication is whether the findings of fact are supported by clear and convincing evidence and whether the findings support the conclusions of law. Conclusions of law are reviewed de novo. This is the proper standard of review for a denial of a TPR adjudication. To the extent the court of appeals opinion could be interpreted to apply an abuse of discretion standard, it is modified to identify the correct standard.
  • The trial court considers the evidence, determines its credibility and weight, and finds the relevant facts.
  • G.S. 7B-1111(a)(4) authorizes a TPR based on a parent’s willful failure to pay child support for one year or more immediately preceding the TPR petition when a parent has been awarded custody of the child and a support order is in place. The TPR order does not include findings that there was a child support order requiring father to pay child support but instead finds father paid child support until mother elected to no longer have an income garnishment for father’s wages to pay child support. There was evidence to show there was a child support order but no finding. Mother has the burden of proof and father’s failure to directly deny an allegation does not meet that burden. Further, there were no findings regarding whether father willfully failed to pay.
  • The court made no findings to support neglect or willful abandonment. Mother’s argument that father neglected the child because of his past behavior is not supported by the findings that father’s prior suicidal threat was not threatening or combative toward mother or the unborn child. Regarding willful abandonment, the court found father made some efforts to have a relationship with his child that were hindered by mother.
Termination of Parental Rights
Fail to Pay Child Support
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