Articles Posted in Family Law

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The Juvenile Code does not mandate that a petition alleging a juvenile is abused, neglected, or dependent must be filed only by the director or authorized agent of the department of social services of the county “in which the juvenile resides or is found.” See N.C. Gen. Stat. 7B-101. The Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services, Youth and Family Division (YFS) filed a juvenile petition with the District Court in Mecklenburg County alleging that A.P. was a neglected and dependent juvenile. The trial court concluded that A.P. was a neglected and dependent juvenile. On appeal, the Court of Appeals held that YFS did not have standing to file the juvenile petition because Mecklenburg County was not the juvenile’s county of residence. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the statutory sections in the Juvenile Code governing parties and venue did not mandate dismissal of the juvenile petition under the circumstances of this case. View "In re A.P." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals that affirmed the order of the trial court requiring Father’s consent before proceeding with the adoption of a minor child (Child), holding that the evidence was legally insufficient to support the trial court’s order. Specifically, the Court held (1) as a matter of law, Father’s evidence did not establish that he made reasonable and consistent payments for the support of Mother or Child before the filing of the adoption petition; and (2) therefore, the evidence was legally insufficient to support the trial court’s order requiring Father’s consent. View "In re Adoption of C.H.M." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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On appeal from this non-jury neglect adjudication, the court of appeals misapplied the standard of review in reversing an order of the district court in that the district court’s findings were supported by clear and convincing competent evidence and were therefore deemed conclusive. In adjudicating J.A.M. to be a neglected juvenile, the trial court found that Mother failed to acknowledge her role in prior minor children entering custody and her rights subsequently being terminated. The court of appeals determined that Mother’s vague concession to having made “poor decisions” constituted evidence that directly contradicted the finding that Mother failed to acknowledge her role in the children entering custody and her rights subsequently being terminated. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that there was clear and convincing evidence to support the trial court’s findings. View "In re J.A.M." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The trial court did not err by terminating Father’s parental rights to his minor child on the basis of neglect in accordance with N.C. Gen. Stat. 7B-1111(a)(1). The court of appeals reversed the trial court’s order termination of Father’s parental rights, concluding that the trial court erred in finding that grounds existed pursuant to section 7B-1111(a)(1) to terminate Father’s parental rights. On appeal, the New Hanover County Department of Social Services (DSS) argued, among other things, that the court of appeals incorrectly opined that, because Father was incarcerated at the time of the child’s removal, he therefore could not have neglected the child. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed the court of appeals’ judgment, holding that DSS met its burden of proving sufficient facts to enable the trial court to establish by clear and convincing evidence that grounds existed to justify termination. View "In re M.A.W." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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A district court has jurisdiction to modify a child support order without a party filing a motion to modify asserting that there is a change in circumstances. Catawba County, by and through its Child Support Agency, ex rel. Shawna Rackley (Plaintiff) failed to file a motion to modify a child support order. The district court concluded that a motion to modify a child support obligation must precede a modification order. The Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that the district court did not have jurisdiction because Plaintiff failed to comply with the procedural mandates of N.C. Gen. Stat. 50-13.7(a). The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Plaintiff’s failure to file a motion to modify Defendant’s child support obligation did not divest the district court of jurisdiction to modify the child support order under section 50-13.7(a). View "Catawba County ex rel. Rackley v. Loggins" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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Plaintiff filed an action seeking equitable distribution of the parties’ marital assets and child support. Plaintiff and Defendant agreed to arbitrate the action under North Carolina’s Family Law Arbitration Act. Plaintiff and Defendant entered into an equitable distribution arbitration award by consent. The trial court confirmed the award. Plaintiff subsequently filed a motion to vacate arbitration award and set aside order and motion to engage in discovery on the basis of Plaintiff’s alleged fraud. The trial court denied Plaintiff’s motion for leave to engage in discovery. The court of appeals dismissed Plaintiff’s appeal, concluding that Plaintiff had no right to immediately appeal the trial court’s order denying discovery and that the trial court had no discretion to order post-confirmation discovery in this case. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Plaintiff had a right to appeal the trial court’s denial of his motion to engage in discovery; and (2) the trial court had the discretion to order discovery in this case. View "Stokes v. Crumpton" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether an adult relative who supervises a child during a sleepover is a “caretaker” of that child under section 7B-101(3) of the Juvenile Code. R.R.N. was abused by Mr. B., a relative, when she spent the night at his house along with his wife and three children. The Wilson County Department of Social Services (DSS) filed a petition alleging that R.R.N. was an abused and neglected juvenile, stating that Mr. B. was R.R.N.’s “caretaker” when R.R.N. spent a single night at his house. Respondent, R.R.N.’s mother, filed a motion to dismiss the petition, arguing that the Juvenile Code did not apply because Mr. B. was not R.R.N.’s caretaker. The trial court disagreed and adjudicated R.R.N. to be an abused and neglected juvenile, thereby allowing the court to assume authority over R.R.N. and her family. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Mr. B. was not R.R.N.’s “caretaker,” as contemplated by section 7B-101(e), when he sexually abused her, and therefore, the trial court erred in adjudicating R.R.N. an abused and neglected juvenile. View "In re R.R.N." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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Respondent voluntarily placed her newborn son with the Guilford County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) based upon her concerns about the safety of her home. DHHS later filed a petition seeking to have Respondent’s parental rights terminated. After a hearing, the trial court terminated Respondent’s parental rights in her son. The court of appeals reversed the trial court’s termination order, concluding that the trial court had abused its discretion by failing to conduct an inquiry into whether Respondent was entitled to the appointment of a parental guardian ad litem given that the information available to the trial court raised a substantial question concerning Respondent’s competence. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by failing to conduct an inquiry into Respondent’s competence before proceeding with the termination hearing. View "In re T.L.H." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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After Mother discontinued her romantic relationship with Father, she gave birth to Child. A couple filed a petition to adopt Child, after which the adoption agency filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of the absent father. Father subsequently learned that Mother had given birth and filed motions seeking to intervene in the adoption proceeding and to secure child custody. The trial court denied Father’s motion to intervene. The trial court then allowed the adoption to proceed without Father’s consent and denied all motions made by him. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that Father’s consent was not required under N.C. Gen. Stat. 48-3-601 but that insufficient facts existed as to whether applying section 48-3-601 to Father would violate his due process rights. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that because Father failed to obtain notice of the birth, to acknowledge paternity, and to establish himself as a responsible parent within the time set by statute, Father fell outside the class of responsible biological fathers who enjoy a constitutionally protected relationship with their natural children. View "In re Adoption of S.D.W." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The trial court entered two orders, the first of which ceased reunification efforts between Mother and her children, and the second of which terminated Mother's parental rights. Mother appealed, arguing that the trial court's cease reunification order failed to satisfy the requirements of N.C. Gen. Stat. 7B-507, which requires trial courts to make written findings of fact that further reunification efforts would be futile or inconsistent with the child's health, safety, and need for a safe, permanent home. The court of appeals reversed both orders after finding perceived deficiencies in the cease reunification order but without considering the termination of parental rights order. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the trial court's written findings of fact in a permanency planning order that consider the factors in section 7B-507 need not recite the statutory language verbatim but should address the substance of the statutory requirements; (2) even if the permanency planning order is deficient standing alone, the appellate court should review that order in conjunction with the termination of parental rights order to determine whether the statutory requirements are met; and (3), in this case, both the permanency planning order and the termination of parental rights order complied with the statutory mandate. View "In re L.M.T" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law