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Domestic Relations – Child Custody – Grandparent-Custodians – Removal from Action – Insufficient Findings

Domestic Relations – Child Custody – Grandparent-Custodians – Removal from Action – Insufficient Findings

The respondent-grandparents were awarded custody of their grandchildren, “Jonah” and “Zeke.” Consequently, the parents’ subsequent relinquishment of their parental rights to Jonah and Zeke didn’t automatically warrant the dismissal of the grandparents from the G.S. Chapter 7B proceedings concerning the children.

We reverse the order removing the grandparents from the juvenile proceeding and remand for further consideration.


In a December 2015 custody order (the Custody Order), the trial court awarded legal and physical custody of Jonah and Zeke to their grandparents. The Custody Order relieved the Stanly County Department of Social Services of further efforts on behalf of the children.

In May 2016, DSS filed a new juvenile petition, alleging that Jonah and Zeke were neglected and dependent juveniles. The children were placed in DSS custody.

In June 2017, Jonah and Zeke’s parents relinquished their parental rights. Despite taking judicial notice of the Custody Order granting custody of the children to their grandparents, the trial court concluded that the parents’ “relinquishments . . . terminated all parental rights of the respondents and the parents thereby relinquishing any actions on behalf of [the grandparents] in this matter.” This order effectively removed the grandparents from the ongoing proceeding and directed DSS to pursue a permanent plan of adoption by Jonah and Zeke’s foster parents.


The Custody Order specifically provided that it would “initiate[] a civil custody action” and that it terminated “the jurisdiction of the [trial court] in the juvenile proceeding.” Thus, when DSS filed its second juvenile petition alleging that Jonah and Zeke were neglected and dependent juveniles, the petition created a new juvenile proceeding.

G.S. § 7B-401.1(g) provides, “Removal of a Party. – If a guardian, custodian, or caretaker is a party, the court may discharge that person from the proceeding, making the person no longer a party, if the court finds [1] that the person does not have legal rights that may be affected by the action and [2] that the person’s continuation as a party is not necessary to meet the juvenile’s needs.”

The trial court failed to make the requisite findings to remove the grandparents as parties, instead basing its decision on the parents’ relinquishment of their parental rights. Accordingly, we reverse the ruling of the trial court removing the grandparents as parties and remand for action consistent with this opinion, which must include the required findings pursuant to § 7B-401.1(g).

If the trial court seeks to remove the grandparents from the juvenile proceeding, we note that the outstanding Chapter 50 Custody Order awarding the grandparents legal and physical custody of the children may prevent the trial court, in its discretion, from making the first required finding under § 7B-401.1(g).

In the event that the trial court, after its consideration of § 7B-401.1(g), determines that the grandparents should remain parties to the juvenile proceeding, it must then provide for appropriate visitation as may be in the best interests of the children. See G.S. § 7B-905.1.

Finally, on remand, the trial court shall make findings sufficient to supports its conclusion that it would not be in the children’s best interest to be returned to their grandparents.

Reversed and remanded.

In re J.R.S. (Lawyers Weekly No. 011-116-18, 8 pp.) (Chris Dillon, J.) Appealed from Stanly County District Court (John Nance, J.) Jacqueline De Santis for petitioner; Mark Hayes for the respondent-grandmother; Jeffrey William Gillette for the respondent-grandfather; Leah D’Aurora Richardson for the guardian ad litem. N.C. App.



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