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Domestic Relations–   Civil Practice – Appeals – Wrong Judge’s Signature – Termination of Parental Rights

Domestic Relations–   Civil Practice – Appeals – Wrong Judge’s Signature – Termination of Parental Rights

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Judge Earwood presided over the hearing on a petition to terminate the respondent-mother’s parental rights, and Judge Earwood asked counsel to draft an order for her signature. However, Judge Leslie inadvertently signed the order. Even though respondent appealed the order, since the order signed by Judge Leslie was a nullity, she still had the authority to vacate that order, regardless of respondent’s appeal.

We affirm the termination of respondent’s parental rights.

The Court of Appeals decided issues similar to the question before us in this case in In re Whisnant, 71 N.C. App. 439, 322 S.E.2d 434 (1984), and In re Savage, 163 N.C. App. 195, 592 S.E.2d 610 (2004), in both of which the orders terminating the parents’ parental rights were vacated because they had been signed by a judge other than the individual who had presided over the termination hearing. According to the Court of Appeals, “an order terminating parental rights was a ‘nullity’ when signed by a judge other than the one who presided over the hearing,” with this result stemming from the fact that N.C. R. Civ. P. 52 “requires a judge presiding over a non-jury trial to (1) make findings of fact, (2) state conclusions of law arising on the facts found, and (3) enter judgment accordingly.” Since we believe that the reasoning adopted by the Court of Appeals in these cases was sound, we conclude that the initial termination orders signed by Judge Leslie were a nullity.

In view of the fact that no viable adjudication and termination orders were actually entered on October 16, 2018, the appeal that respondent noted from those orders did not have the effect of divesting the District Court, Henderson County, of the authority to enter further orders in this case, including the entry of additional orders correcting the error worked by Judge Leslie’s decision to sign orders in a termination of parental rights case in which she had not presided over the adjudication and dispositional hearing. For this reason, Judge Leslie did not err by vacating the initial set of termination orders that she signed in this case.


In re C.M.C. (Lawyers Weekly No. 010-049-19, 9 pp.) (Sam Ervin, J.) Appealed from Haywood County District Court (Kristina Earwood, J.) Jordan Israel for petitioner; Sarah Cansler for guardian ad litem; David Perez for respondent. N.C. S. Ct.


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