In re Z.A.M., 374 N.C. 88 (2020)

  • Facts: In 2017, the children were adjudicated neglected and dependent. In 2018, the permanency planning order identified adoption and guardianship as the concurrent permanent plans. DSS filed a motion to terminate the parents’ rights on the grounds of neglect and failure to make reasonable progress to correct the conditions. After finding both grounds existed, the court determined it was in the children’s best interests to terminate parental rights to allow the grandparents, who were the children’s placement provider, to adopt the children. Respondent father appeals the grounds challenging the sufficiency of the findings. Both respondents challenged the best interests determination.
  • Standard of review of an adjudication order is whether the findings of fact are supported by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence and whether the findings support the conclusions of law. Conclusions of law are reviewed do novo. The appellate court will review the findings and conclusions in the order regardless of how they are classified (e.g., a conclusion is labelled as a finding).
  • G.S. 7B-1111(a)(1) authorizes the trial court to terminate a parent’s rights based on neglect. When a parent and child have been separated for a long period, there must be both past neglect and a likelihood of future neglect. A likelihood of future neglect is determined by considering evidence of changed circumstances between the period of past neglect and the time of the TPR hearing.
  • G.S. 7B-1111(a)(2) authorizes a trial court to terminate a parent’s rights based on their (1) willfully leaving their child in foster care or other out-of-home placement for more than 12 months (2) without showing reasonable progress under the circumstances has been made to correct the conditions that led to the child’s removal.
  • Although respondent father argues the trial court did not consider current circumstances, the findings about respondent father’s more recent 3-month period of sobriety was evaluated over the entire 22-month period when the children were out of  the home, which showed that he has multiple relapses and that his alcohol abuse preceded the TPR hearing. The trial court appropriately weighed the evidence to conclude there was a likelihood of neglect and failure to make reasonable progress.
Termination of Parental Rights
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