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Domestic Relations – Constitutional – Due Process – Personal Jurisdiction – Status Exception – Termination of Parental Rights – First Impression

Domestic Relations – Constitutional – Due Process – Personal Jurisdiction – Status Exception – Termination of Parental Rights – First Impression


North Carolina’s courts can terminate the parental rights of a parent who lacks minimum contacts with the state, pursuant to the status exception to the minimum contacts requirement for personal jurisdiction in termination of parental rights proceedings.

We affirm the trial court’s denial of the respondent-father’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.

Respondent is a South Carolina resident with no contacts with North Carolina, other than his twin daughters’ residence here.

Our courts’ exercise of personal jurisdiction over respondent is authorized by G.S. § 50A-201(c), but respondent argues that North Carolina’s statutory requirements do not comport with constitutional due process requirements. We disagree.

This is an issue of first impression for this court, though our Court of Appeals has developed a line of case law in which minimum contacts are required only in instances in which the child or children were born in wedlock.

While this court has not addressed the issue of minimum contacts in termination of parental rights cases, we have considered it in a child support case. In Miller v. Kite, 313 N.C. 474, 329 S.E.2d 663 (1985), we declined to subject a nonresident parent to personal jurisdiction in our state when he had done nothing more than send support payments and visit his children here.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that “cases involving the personal status of the plaintiff, such as divorce actions, could be adjudicated in the plaintiff’s home State even though the defendant could not be served within the State.” Shaffer v. Heitner, 433 U.S. 186 (1977). The Court’s recognition of the status exception implies that minimum contacts are not required in status cases because jurisdiction is established by the status of the plaintiff, rather than the location of the defendant.

The U.S. Supreme Court has not defined the limits of the status exception or explicitly recognized its application outside of divorce proceedings; however, it briefly discussed the issue of status in a custody case, May v. Anderson, 345 U.S. 528 (1953). Though May held that personal jurisdiction was needed over the mother in a custody action, many courts have concluded that the Court would be receptive to applying the status exception in termination of parental rights cases.

When there is a conflict between the interests of the child and the parents, courts should consider actions that are within the child’s best interests over those of the parents. G.S. § 7B-1100(3). These considerations differ from the interests this court considered in Miller, where either parent may be able to provide for the well-being of the child. In termination of parental rights proceedings, which necessarily involve a parent who does not provide appropriate care, fairness requires that the state have the power to provide permanence for children living within its borders.

If minimum contacts were mandatory in this case, the children would be required to travel to South Carolina where respondent-father resides and, pursuant to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, reside there for six months in order for South Carolina to obtain jurisdiction over the children. Thus, North Carolina would be required to relinquish departmental custody and remove the children from stable housing. Doing so would not only frustrate the state’s interest in promoting the best interests of the children but could also pose further complications regarding custody and make adoption impossible.

The burden imposed upon respondent-father, and nonresident parents in general, is mitigated by the state’s appointment of counsel to nonresident parents and the right to request participation in proceedings via phone or other remote technologies. Thus, in the context of a termination of parental rights proceeding, the protections usually afforded by the minimum contacts requirement are outweighed by the state’s interest in adjudicating the status of children who reside within the state.

We join those states that have applied the status exception to the minimum contacts requirement in termination of parental rights proceedings. In doing so, we overrule In re Finnican, 104 N.C. App. 157, 408 S.E.2d 742 (1991), and In re Trueman, 99 N.C. App. 579, 393 S.E.2d 569 (1990).


In re F.S.T.Y. (Lawyers Weekly No. 010-063-20, 15 pp.) (Cheri Beasley, C.J.) Appealed from the District Court in Davidson County (Mary Covington, J.) Sheri Woodyard for petitioner; Brian Bernhardt for guardian ad litem; Richard Croutharmel for respondent. N.C. S. Ct.

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