In re Z.J.W., ___ N.C. App. ___, 883 S.E.2d 222 (2023)

Vacated and Remanded
  • Facts: In 2019, father’s parental rights were terminated and father appealed. On appeal, the supreme court reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded in part the TPR for an order that contained proper findings and conclusions of laws regarding the ground of neglect and likelihood of repetition of neglect and the whether the TPR was in the child’s best interests. In 2021, on remand, the trial judge held an in-chambers meeting with the DSS attorney and the child’s GAL. Neither father nor his attorney were provided notice of the meeting or participated in the meeting. There was no record of the meeting. A new TPR order was entered, and father appealed.
  • Parents must be provided with fundamentally fair procedures, consistent with the Due Process Clause, when the State moves to destroy weakened familial bonds. Judicial Canon 3(A)(4) requires a judge “accord to every person who is legally interested in a proceeding, or the person’s lawyer, full right to be heard according to law, and except as authorized by law, neither knowingly initiate nor knowingly consider ex parte or other communications concerning a pending proceeding.” Sl.Op. at 5.
  • The trial court acted under a misapprehension of law that father was no longer a party and not entitled to due process. Father was entitled to proper service of notice, notice, and an opportunity to be heard, just like he was afforded at the initial TPR proceeding. A remand is required as father was not given an opportunity to participate or be heard before the new TPR order was entered.
Termination of Parental Rights
Remand Instructions
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