In re T.L.H., 368 N.C. 101 (2015)


court of appeals decision

  • A trial court is not required to conduct a hearing on a parent’s competency and resulting need for a Rule 17 guardian ad litem when (1) a parent has a diagnosed mental illness, (2) the grounds for a TPR are based on parent’s diagnosed mental illness, or (3) a party requests a hearing. Incompetency is defined at G.S. 35A-1107. Because this is a different standard from the ground for a TPR based on a parent’s incapability of providing care for her child [G.S. 7B-1111(a)(6)], the ground itself does not require a hearing on the parent’s competency, even if a request for a hearing is made.
  • A trial court’s decisions of whether (1) to hold a hearing on a parent’s competency, and/or (2) whether a parent is incompetent and requires a Rule 17 GAL are discretionary. The standard of review is an abuse of discretion. Substantial deference must be given to the trial court that has interacted with the respondent parent whose competency is at question. Evaluating a respondent parent’s competency extends beyond finding there is a mental health diagnosis and includes observations of the respondent’s behavior in the courtroom, ability to express herself and her understanding of the situation, and her ability to assist her counsel.
  • Absent “extreme instances,” a trial court should not be held to have abused its discretion by failing to holding a hearing on a respondent parent’s competency when the record contains “an appreciable amount of evidence tending to show the litigant whose mental condition is at issue is not incompetent.”  Here, the record showed the respondent mother exercised proper judgment in agreeing to have DSS take custody of her newborn infant, demonstrated a reasonable understanding of the proceedings when informing DSS that she wanted to reunify with her child, and testified to receiving treatment and needing to manage her own affairs including budgeting for her limited financial resources and seeking subsidized housing.


Termination of Parental Rights
GAL for Respondent Parent
Hearing on Competency
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