Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Carolina Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the judgment of the district court determining that termination of Father's parental rights was not in the child's best interests and dismissing Bethany Christian Services' petition to terminate parental rights, holding that a challenged portion of one of the trial court's findings of fact was erroneous.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the trial court’s admission of the guardian ad litem’s report during the dispositional stage of the termination proceeding without allowing the child's guardian ad litem to be cross-examined about the report was not an abuse of discretion; and (2) the trial court’s written order contained a key finding of fact that lacked evidentiary support in the record and could be read as reflecting an inappropriate bias against adoption, and this inappropriate finding was prejudicial. View "In re R.D." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court terminating Mother's parental rights to her minor daughter, holding that Petitioners did not prove by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence that grounds existed to terminate Mother's parental rights and that the requirements of N.C. Gen. Stat. 7B-1111(a)(6) and (7) were not met in this case.The trial court ultimately appointed Petitioners as the child's legal permanent guardians pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. 7B-600. Petitioners filed a petition seeking to terminate Mother's parental rights in order to adopt the child. The district court terminated Mother's parental rights pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. 7B-1111(a)(6) and (7). The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the requirements of section 7B-1111(a)(6) were not met because the child resided with legal permanent guardians and that the record lacked any evidence supporting a conclusion that Mother acted willfully within the meaning of section 7B-1111(a)(7). View "In re A.L.L." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the orders of the trial court terminating Father's parental rights to his two biological children, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding the existence of the ground for termination of neglect.On appeal, Defendant argued that his guardian ad litem, appointed pursuant to N.C. R. Civ. P. 17 and N.C. Gen. Stat. 7B-1101.1, did not participate sufficiently to satisfy the statutory requirements, and therefore, the trial court erred in advancing the adjudication and disposition proceedings. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Father did not identify any actions his guardian ad litem could have taken that would have improved Father's chances to obtain a decision in his favor and did not show that the guardian ad litem did not otherwise adequately assist him in executing his legal rights; and (2) the ground of neglect supported the termination of Father's parental rights. View "In re W.K." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the orders of the trial court terminating Mother's parental rights in her two children, holding that, given the very limited inquiry inquiry that the trial court undertook before allowing Mother's counsel's withdrawal motion, the trial court erred by allowing that motion.During the termination proceedings, Mother retained Roy Dawson to represent her. Dawson later filed motions seeking leave to withdraw as Mother's counsel in the proceedings. The trial court granted the request without further inquiry. After a termination of parental rights hearing, Mother's parental rights were terminated. Mother appealed, arguing that the trial court failed to make a proper inquiry before allowing Dawson's withdrawal motion. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed, holding that the trial court erred by allowing Mother's counsel to withdraw his representation of Mother without (1) making an adequate inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the making of that motion; and (2) inquiring, at the time Mother appeared at the termination hearing, whether she was represented by counsel, whether she wished to apply for court-appointed counsel, or whether she wished to represent herself. View "In re K.M.W." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's order terminating Mother's parental rights, holding that the trial court did not err in determining that Mother's parental rights in the children were subject to termination on the basis of neglect pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. 7B-1111(a)(1) and that termination of Mother's parental rights would be in the children's best interests.The trial court concluded that Mother's parental rights were subject to termination on the basis of neglect and that termination of Mother's parental rights would be in the children's best interests. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial court's ultimate findings that there was current ongoing neglect and a likelihood of repetition of neglect were supported by the record evidence; and (2) the trial court's evidentiary and ultimate findings had sufficient record support. View "In re J.J.H." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the trial court terminating Father's parental rights to Beth, holding that the trial court did not err.After a termination hearing, the trial court terminated Father's parental rights, concluding that grounds existed for termination under N.C. Gen. Stat. 7B-1111(a)(1), (2), (5), and (7). The written termination order did not explicitly state that the grounds to terminate Father's parental rights were proved by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, where the trial court stated the statutorily-mandated standard of proof in open court and there was nothing in the order indicating the trial court applied the incorrect standard of proof, the trial court did not reversibly err by failing to explicitly state the correct standard of proof in the written termination order. View "In re B.L.H." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the trial court terminating Mother's parental rights to her minor child, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in failing sua sponte to conduct a second inquiry into the appointment of a guardian ad litem (GAL) to assist Mother in her termination of parental rights proceeding.After a hearing, the trial court entered an order concluding that termination of Mother's parental rights was warranted on the grounds of neglect and dependency. The court also concluded that it was in the child's best interests that Mother's parental rights be terminated. On appeal, Mother argued that the trial court abused its discretion by failing sua sponte to conduct a second inquiry into whether Mother should be appointed a GAL to assist her during the termination proceeding. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by failing sua sponte to conduct a second inquiry into the need to appoint a GAL for Mother. View "In re Q.B." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the trial court terminating Father's parental rights to his child on the grounds of willful failure to pay for the cost of care of the child and willful abandonment, holding that the trial court did not err or abuse its discretion.The trial court concluded that grounds existed to terminate Father's parental rights based on Father's willful failure to pay for the child's care and Father's willful abandonment of the child. The court further found that termination of Father's parental rights was in the child's best interests. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court did not err in concluding that grounds existed to terminate Father's parental rights pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. 7B-1111(a). View "In re C.A.H." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the trial court terminating Mother's parental rights to her three minor children, holding that the issues raised by counsel in a no-merit brief did not entitle Mother to relief.The trial court found that Mother's parental rights were subject to termination pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. 7B-1111(a)(1), (7), and (9) and that termination of Mother's parental rights to her three children was in the children's best interests. Mother appealed, and her appellate counsel filed a no-merit brief on Mother's behalf. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial court did not err in finding and concluding that a basis for termination of Mother's parental rights existed; and (2) the trial court's order was based on proper legal grounds. View "In re J.S." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the orders of the trial court terminating Mother's parental rights to her two children, holding that the trial court properly decided to terminate the parental rights of Mother.On appeal, Mother asserted that her counsel's cross-examination of a witness for the Wilkes County Department of Social Services during the termination hearing and Mother's counsel's closing arguments constituted ineffective assistance of counsel. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Mother's counsel did not render ineffective assistance, and therefore, there was no prejudice to her in the hearing proceedings. View "In re T.N.C." on Justia Law