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Domestic Relations – Parent & Child – Termination of Parental Rights – Failure to Make Progress – Bipolar Disorder

The trial court’s vague findings about respondent’s “disturbing” behavior are insufficient to support its ultimate finding that respondent has failed to make progress while leaving her child in petitioners’ custody.

We reverse the trial court’s termination of respondent’s parental rights.

The trial court’s findings demonstrate only that respondent has had multiple “episodes” since 2010 due to her mental health issues, that her last hospitalization was in December 2015, that respondent has been working with the UNC Chatham Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team for several years, and that she had exhibited some form of “concerning” and “disturbing” behavior during visits with her child. These findings are insufficient to support the trial court’s ultimate finding that, at the time of the termination hearing in April 2017, respondent willfully left her son in petitioners’ care without making reasonable progress to correct the conditions that led to his removal from her care. The findings fail to address any progress or lack of progress by respondent in correcting the conditions that led to her son’s removal in the months prior to the termination hearing.

Although the trial court also found neglect, the court made no findings regarding respondent’s situation and condition at the time of the termination hearing in order to show a likelihood of repetition of neglect. The most recent example of respondent’s inability to care for her son was that she appeared tired at her December 2016 visit. Petitioners presented no evidence of respondent’s inability to properly care for her son at the time of the hearing other than their assertions that they did not believe respondent was capable. This is not clear, cogent, and convincing evidence to support a finding that there is a reasonable probability respondent would neglect her son if he were returned to her care.



(Bryant, J.) Despite the majority’s concern about the vagueness of the trial court’s reference to respondent’s “episodes,” the transcript reveals that the latest episode respondent experienced was “a manic episode,” for which she was hospitalized and involuntarily committed. From these facts, the trial court could reasonably infer that these episodes, including the one she suffered 15 months prior, were of a dangerous nature – at least one resulted in her hospitalization and involuntary commitment.

The trial court also included a specific example of respondent’s behavior that the trial court found to be “disturbing”: the fact that respondent took the juvenile to a restaurant and purchased food only for herself. By arguing that the trial court was insufficiently particular in making this finding, respondent is essentially asking this court to reconsider the evidence in making a determination of what constitutes “disturbing” or “concerning” behavior. This court should decline to engage in such reweighing of the evidence.

Testimony at the hearing was competent evidence that illustrates that respondent continued to exhibit signs of mental instability and was not able to provide proper care for the child. Petitioners, whom the trial court specifically found it “believed” and that whose trial testimony it accepted “as true,” testified that respondent could not properly care for the child at the time of the hearing. There was simply no evidence before the trial court that respondent had made reasonable progress – for over five years – in correcting the conditions that led to removal of the child.

Because the evidence and findings were sufficient to support the court’s ultimate finding that respondent failed to make reasonable progress in correcting the conditions which led to the child’s removal to the satisfaction of the court, I would hold the findings support the conclusion that grounds existed pursuant to G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(2) to terminate respondent’s parental rights.

In re Z.D. (Lawyers Weekly No. 011-102-18, 33 pp.) (Linda McGee, C.J.) (Wanda Bryant, J., dissenting) Appealed from Orange County District Court (Joseph Buckner, J.) Edward Eldred for petitioners; Peter Wood for respondent. N.C. App.


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