In re Z.V.A., 373 N.C. 207 (2019)

  • Facts: There is an underlying neglect action with a permanency planning order (PPO) of adoption and reunification. The PPO ordered DSS to proceed with a termination of parental rights for the parents. A week after the TPR was filed by DSS, the child was placed with the maternal aunt in New Jersey. After a TPR hearing, the court concluded neglect existed as to each parent and the TPR was in the child’s best interests. Both parents appealed the TPR order.
  • GAL appointment for mother: G.S. 7B-1101.1(c) authorizes the court to appoint a GAL for a respondent parent who is incompetent upon the court’s own motion or the motion of a party. G.S. 7B-1101.1(c).  Failure to appoint a GAL is reviewed for an abuse of discretion, which is when a court’s ruling is so arbitrary or manifestly unsupported by reason. Substantial deference is given to the district court regarding decisions involving a party’s competence (defined at G.S. 35A-1101(7)) because it interacts with the litigant and is able to form a better assessment of the litigant’s mental condition than an appellant court that is limited to reviewing the cold, written record. “When the record contains an appreciable amount of evidence tending to show that the litigant whose mental condition is at issue is not incompetent, the [district] court should not, except in the most extreme instances, be held on appeal to have abused its discretion by failing to inquire into that litigant’s competence.” Sl.Op. at 5 quoting In re T.L.H., 368 N.C. 101, 456 (2015) (emphasis in Sl.Op.). There is no extreme instance in this case and the court did not abuse its discretion in not conducting an inquiry to mother’s competency when despite an indication that mother has a mental disability based upon an IQ of 64, findings showed mother was able to work, attend school, and complete domestic violence classes that were part of her case plan.
Termination of Parental Rights
GAL for Respondent Parent
Hearing on Competency
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