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Domestic Relations — Parent & Child – Termination of Parental Rights – Mother’s Competency – GAL

In re T.L.H. (Lawyers Weekly No. 14-07-1068, 21 pp.) (Rick Elmore, J.) (Robert C. Hunter, J., dissenting) Appealed from Guilford County District Court (Tabatha Holliday, J.) N.C. App.

Holding: Given the serious nature of the respondent-mother’s multiple ongoing mental health conditions, the trial court’s reliance on those conditions to support grounds to terminate her parental rights, and the probable impact of respondent’s mental health status on her ability to participate in the proceedings, the trial court abused its discretion by failing to conduct an inquiry into respondent’s competency and her need for a guardian ad litem for the termination of parental rights proceedings.

We reverse the termination of respondent’s parental rights and remand for a hearing as to whether respondent is in need of a GAL.

Dissent

(Hunter, J.) When G.S. § 7B-1101.1(c) allowed the trial court to appoint a GAL for a parent who had diminished capacity, the trial court appointed a GAL for respondent. Once the statute was amended to allow the appointment of a GAL only if a parent was incompetent, the trial court released the GAL.

There is evidence of competency: once respondent began receiving social security benefits, she paid back rent and bills, and she moved away from her boyfriend with whom she had a long history of domestic violence. By releasing the GAL appointed based on the lower threshold of diminished capacity, the trial court implicitly indicated that respondent is not incompetent. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in releasing the GAL.


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