In re Z.O.G.I., 375 N.C. 858 (2020)

Held: 
Affirmed in Part
Vacated and Remanded in Part
  • Facts: Respondent father appeals the grounds and best interests determination of an order terminating his parental rights. This opinion focuses on the ground of failure to make reasonable progress (affirmed) and the best interests determination. In a TPR proceeding, initiated by DSS as a result of an underlying dependency action, the 13-year-old juvenile testified at the best interests phase. The juvenile stated that he had a wonderful relationship with his foster parents but that he did not want to be adopted and that he needed his father in his life. The court found a strong bond between the father and child but that the likelihood of adoption was high. The court determined the TPR was in the child’s best interests. In its order, the Court “decreed that ‘[DHHS] shall ensure that [respondent] is allowed continued co-parenting of [the juvenile]’ and that ‘it hereby honors the request of [the juvenile] not [to] be adopted pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 48-3-603(b).’ ” Sl.Op. at 16. (Author’s Note: The statute cited waives the requirement the juvenile who is 12 or older consent to the adoption).
  • G.S. 7B-1112 addresses the effect of a TPR order, which completely and permanently terminates all the rights and obligations of the parent to the juvenile and the juvenile to the parent except for the juvenile’s right to inherit from that parent until a final order of adoption is issued. The biological parent becomes a legal stranger to the juvenile.
  • An order that a biological parent be allowed to continue to co-parent is contrary to a determination that it is in the child’s best interests to completely and permanently sever that parent’s parental rights. This suggests the court had a misapprehension of the law regarding the legal effects of a TPR. The trial court may have had a guardianship in mind, which does not require a TPR.
  • When there is a misapprehension of law, remand for the application of the correct legal standard is the appropriate remedy.
Category:
Termination of Parental Rights
Stage:
Disposition
Topic:
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