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

Held: 
Affirmed in Part
Vacated and Remanded in Part
  • Facts: The juvenile was adjudicated dependent in an underlying action based on circumstances created by mother and father’s incarceration and lack of appropriate alternative child care arrangements. After his incarceration, father entered in a case plan, which included obtaining stable housing and income, learning appropriate parenting skills, and addressing his substance abuse issue. The court ordered father to comply with the case plan. Eventually, DSS filed a TPR petition on the grounds of neglect and failure to make reasonable progress. The TPR was granted and father challenges the grounds and the determination that TPR was in the juvenile’s best interests. This opinion focuses on the ground of failure to make reasonable progress (affirmed) and the best interests determination (vacated and remanded).
  • G.S. 7B-1111(a)(2) authorizes a TPR when the parent has willfully left the juvenile in a foster care or other placement for more than 12 months without making reasonable progress under the circumstances to correct the conditions that led to the child’s removal. Willfulness involves a parent’s ability to show reasonable progress but an unwillingness to make the effort. Compliance with a case plan is relevant. G.S. 7B-904(d1)(3) authorizes the court to order a parent to take appropriate steps to remedy the conditions that led to the juvenile’s removal or adjudication.
  • Father had notice from the court of what he was required to do to show a change of conditions that led to the juvenile’s removal when the court, in its permanency planning orders, consistently ordered him to comply with his case plan.
  • Although father argues he made reasonable progress on his case plan by obtaining housing with his girlfriend, having the vast majority of his drug screens test negative, engaging in co-parenting with the foster parents, and consistently visiting with the juvenile, the unchallenged findings show father waited over a year after his incarceration and after the filing of the TPR petition before consistently attending visits, quit his job for an injury he never verified such that he did not have sufficient income, failed to comply with therapy recommendations  regarding his parenting, and failed to address his substance use issues with his admission of his use of marijuana, support the conclusion that he failed to make reasonable progress to correct the conditions.
  • The trial court determines credibility and weighs the evidence and ultimately determined the progress by father to provide adequate care and supervision in a safe home was minimal.
Category:
Termination of Parental Rights
Stage:
Adjudication
Topic:
Willfully Leaving Child in Foster Care or Other Placement
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