In re E.H.P., No. 70A19

Docket NºNo. 70A19
Citation372 N.C. 388, 831 S.E.2d 49
Case DateAugust 16, 2019
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Carolina

372 N.C. 388
831 S.E.2d 49

In the MATTER OF E.H.P. and K.L.P.

No. 70A19

Supreme Court of North Carolina.

Filed August 16, 2019


No brief for petitioner-appellee mother.

Wendy C. Sotolongo, Parent Defender, by Annick Lenoir-Peek, Deputy Parent Defender, for respondent-appellant father.

DAVIS, Justice.

372 N.C. 388

This case involves a termination of parental rights proceeding initiated by petitioner-mother (petitioner) against respondent-father (respondent). In this appeal, we consider whether the trial court erred

372 N.C. 389

by terminating respondent's parental rights based upon the grounds of willful abandonment and willful failure to pay child support. Because we conclude that sufficient evidence existed to support the termination of respondent's parental rights on the basis of willful abandonment and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that termination of respondent's parental rights would be in the children's best interests, we affirm the trial court's orders.

Factual and Procedural Background

Petitioner and respondent were married in 2007 and had two daughters together. Kelly and Emily (the children) were born in 2006 and 2009, respectively.1 The parties separated in 2012.

In August 2013, petitioner filed a motion for temporary emergency custody of the children. In the Temporary Custody Judgment entered in District Court, Graham County on 17 December 2013, petitioner was awarded sole temporary custody of the children "until such time as this matter is resolved by the Court through a permanent custody hearing." The Temporary Custody Judgment contained the following pertinent findings of fact:

5. [Respondent] did not appear for the hearing of this matter and has never filed any form of responsive pleading, motion, or other such documentation in response to [petitioner's] Complaint.

6. The Court takes Judicial notice ... that the [respondent] was in fact validly served and provided Notice of this hearing by the Sheriff of Loudon County, Tennessee, where [respondent] had been incarcerated.

....

9. Throughout the relationship of the parties, the [respondent] committed numerous acts of domestic violence against the [petitioner].

10. The parties separated on July 23, 2012 due to the [respondent's] drug addiction and a series of acts of domestic violence by the [respondent] ... against the [petitioner] wherein the [respondent] choked the [petitioner] and hit her in the face with his
831 S.E.2d 51
elbow
372 N.C. 390
causing bruising and a laceration to the person of the [petitioner].

11. The minor children of the parties were present while the [respondent] engaged in the acts of violence against the [petitioner].

....

14. The [respondent] is addicted to methamphetamine and currently has charges pending against him in the State of North Carolina and Tennessee for larceny, assault on a female by strangulation, and drug related charges.

The Temporary Custody Judgment further provided that respondent "shall have no contact with the minor children until allowed such by further Order of this Court." Respondent never filed any motions seeking to alter the custody arrangement set forth in the Temporary Custody Judgment.

On 25 June 2018, petitioner filed petitions seeking to terminate respondent's parental rights to both children on the grounds of willful failure to pay child support and willful abandonment pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(4) and (7), respectively. Petitioner alleged that respondent had willfully failed to pay child support for a continuous period of six months immediately preceding the filing of the petitions. She further alleged that respondent had neither attempted to see or communicate with the children during the six years preceding the filing of the petitions nor sent the children any cards or presents during that time period.

Respondent was served with the petitions at the Sampson County Correctional Institution in Clinton, North Carolina, where he had been incarcerated since January 2018 and was serving an eight-month sentence for violating his probation. On 17 July 2018, he filed answers to the petitions in which he denied that grounds existed to terminate his parental rights.

A hearing was held on the petitions to terminate respondent's parental rights in District Court, Graham County on 17 October 2018 before the Honorable Monica Leslie. At the hearing, the trial court received testimony from petitioner, respondent, the children's stepfather, the guardian ad litem for each child, and respondent's brother.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court informed the parties that it was terminating respondent's parental rights to both children

372 N.C. 391

on the ground of willful abandonment. The court stated as follows with regard to the ground of willful failure to pay child support:

[T]here was not a child support order introduced as evidence nor was there any payment schedule or any evidence of when payments were made that were introduced to the Court, and the Court isn't able to determine what, if any, payments have or have not been made within the past six months ... prior to the filing of the petition.

....

Based on the high standard of proof and the lack of evidence about either an order or what payments have been made, the Court does not find by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence the nonsupport ground. However, the Court, having found one ground for termination of parental rights, will move on to the dispositional phase of the proceeding.

On 14 January 2019, the trial court entered adjudication and disposition orders as to each juvenile terminating respondent's parental rights. However, contrary to the statements made by the court at the 17 October hearing in announcing its ruling, the court's written orders stated that sufficient evidence existed to support termination based upon both grounds alleged in the petitions. Respondent gave timely notice of appeal to this Court pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 7B-1001(a1)(1).2

Analysis

On appeal, respondent argues that the trial court erred by both finding that grounds existed to terminate his parental rights to the children and concluding that the termination of his parental rights was in the children's best interests. We disagree.

831 S.E.2d 52

Our Juvenile Code sets forth a two-step process for the termination of parental rights. At the adjudication stage, the petitioner bears the burden of proving by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence that grounds exist for termination pursuant to section 7B-1111 of the General Statutes....

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134 practice notes
  • In re G.B., No. 438A19
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • April 16, 2021
    ...the findings are supported by clear, cogent and convincing evidence and the findings support the conclusions of law." In re E.H.P. , 372 N.C. 388, 392, 831 S.E.2d 49 (2019) (quoting In re Montgomery , 311 N.C. 101, 111, 316 S.E.2d 246 (1984) ). All findings of fact which are not challenged ......
  • In re J.T.C., No. COA19-252
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
    • August 18, 2020
    ...the findings are supported by clear, cogent and convincing evidence and the findings support the conclusions of law.’ " Matter of E.H.P. , 372 N.C. 388, 392, 831 S.E.2d 49, 52 (2019) (quoting In re Montgomery , 311 N.C. 101, 111, 316 S.E.2d 246, 253 (1984) ). "We review de novo whether a tr......
  • In re B.B., 24A21
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • June 17, 2022
    ...parental rights upon an adjudication of any one of the grounds in N.C.G.S. § 7B-1111(a). N.C.G.S. § 7B-1111(a) ; see also In re E.H.P. , 372 N.C. 388, 395, 831 S.E.2d 49 (2019). We review a trial court's adjudication to determine whether the findings are supported by clear, cogent, and conv......
  • In re J.A.J., 269A21
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • July 15, 2022
    ...the findings are supported by clear, cogent and convincing evidence and the findings support the conclusions of law.’ " In re E.H.P. , 372 N.C. 388, 392, 831 S.E.2d 49 (2019) (quoting In re Montgomery , 311 N.C. 101, 111, 316 S.E.2d 246 (1984) ). Unchallenged findings of fact "are deemed su......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
134 cases
  • In re G.B., No. 438A19
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • April 16, 2021
    ...the findings are supported by clear, cogent and convincing evidence and the findings support the conclusions of law." In re E.H.P. , 372 N.C. 388, 392, 831 S.E.2d 49 (2019) (quoting In re Montgomery , 311 N.C. 101, 111, 316 S.E.2d 246 (1984) ). All findings of fact which are not challenged ......
  • In re J.T.C., No. COA19-252
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
    • August 18, 2020
    ...the findings are supported by clear, cogent and convincing evidence and the findings support the conclusions of law.’ " Matter of E.H.P. , 372 N.C. 388, 392, 831 S.E.2d 49, 52 (2019) (quoting In re Montgomery , 311 N.C. 101, 111, 316 S.E.2d 246, 253 (1984) ). "We review de novo whether a tr......
  • In re B.B., 24A21
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • June 17, 2022
    ...parental rights upon an adjudication of any one of the grounds in N.C.G.S. § 7B-1111(a). N.C.G.S. § 7B-1111(a) ; see also In re E.H.P. , 372 N.C. 388, 395, 831 S.E.2d 49 (2019). We review a trial court's adjudication to determine whether the findings are supported by clear, cogent, and conv......
  • In re J.A.J., 269A21
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • July 15, 2022
    ...the findings are supported by clear, cogent and convincing evidence and the findings support the conclusions of law.’ " In re E.H.P. , 372 N.C. 388, 392, 831 S.E.2d 49 (2019) (quoting In re Montgomery , 311 N.C. 101, 111, 316 S.E.2d 246 (1984) ). Unchallenged findings of fact "are deemed su......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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