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Domestic Relations – Parent & Child – Guardianship – Cessation of Reunification Efforts – Insufficient Findings

Domestic Relations – Parent & Child – Guardianship – Cessation of Reunification Efforts – Insufficient Findings

At the permanency planning hearing, the trial court prevented the respondent-parents from making arguments concerning their constitutionally protected status as parents, so respondents cannot be said to have waived their argument on appeal. Where the trial court did not find that respondents were unfit or had acted inconsistently with their constitutionally protected status, the trial court erred in applying the best interest of the child test to determine that guardianship with the maternal grandmother was in the children’s best interests.

We vacate the trial court’s order ceasing reunification efforts and awarding guardianship of the children to the maternal grandmother. We remand for further proceedings.

The trial court’s findings are also insufficient to support its conclusion that reunification efforts should cease. The trial court held a permanency planning hearing on June 15, 2017, and determined that reunification efforts should continue. Thereafter, while there was one occasion where respondents were suspected of being under the influence of drugs, respondents neither failed nor refused a drug screening. There had been no reported incidents of domestic violence, and both were attending classes to address their issues.

At the Oct. 5, 2017, permanency planning hearing, this evidence required the trial court to adjudicate and have made additional evidentiary findings demonstrating why reunification efforts should cease at that point. Without adjudicated findings of fact, this court cannot conduct a meaningful review of the conclusions of law and test the correctness of the trial court’s judgment.

Vacated and remanded.

In re I.K. (Lawyers Weekly No. 011-247-18, 14 pp.) (Hunter Murphy, J.) Appealed from Orange County District Court (Joseph Moody Buckner, J.) Deana Fleming for petitioner; Sydney Batch and Sean Vitrano for respondents; Matthew McGuire for guardian ad litem. N.C. App.



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