The respondent-Father argues that he did not abandon his child because, shortly before the petitioner-Mother filed the petition to terminate his parental rights, he sent his attorney an email inquiring about reinstating his visitation rights. However, that email is not included in the record, and the sole evidence indicating this email had anything to do with visitation is Mother’s uncertain statement: “I think what the e-mail said was he’s looking to resume visits, yes.” Considering the minimal evidence that the email was regarding visitation, the trial court’s finding 14 is proper (“In July 2020, an attorney for [Father] contacted the attorney for [Mother].”). The finding acknowledges there was a contact between the parties’ attorneys, and the trial court did not have any obligation to address the nature of the July 2020 contact further.
We affirm the termination of Father’s parental rights.
By Father’s own admission, he had no contact with “Sidney” during the six months preceding the filing of the petition. Father made no effort to inquire about Sidney’s welfare, either before or after the petition was filed, even though he had current contact information, and he was not blocked from communicating with Mother.
It is unfortunate Father did not read the “Order Suspending Visitation” well enough to realize it was not a “no[-]contact” order, particularly because the order set forth what he needed to do to resume visitation.
Although the trial court must consider Father’s conduct during the six months preceding the filing of the petition determinative, the trial court may consider a parent’s conduct outside the six-month window in evaluating a parent’s credibility and intentions. During a time period of over 30 months from August 2019, when Father was released from the hospital after a suicide attempt, until the termination-of-parental-rights (TPR) hearing in February 2022, Father’s sole attempts at contact or communication with Mother or Sidney were the one phone call to Mother in August 2019 and the July 2020 email from his attorney to Mother’s attorney.
Father’s admission to not fully reading the Order Suspending Visitation cuts both ways. The trial court could have believed Father acted reasonably when he did not seek to see Sidney based upon his erroneous belief he was subject to a no-contact order. Father argues the trial court should have interpreted the evidence in this manner, and our dissenting colleague would agree. Or the trial court could infer–and did infer–Father was not sufficiently motivated or interested in resuming contact with Sidney even to take a few moments to read the Order Suspending Visitation carefully, even though he admittedly knew the order addressed custody of his child.
The trial court’s findings support its conclusion of abandonment under G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(7).
(Tyson, J.) Mother expressly admitted during cross-examination that she had received written notice from Father or his attorney in July 2020, expressing Father’s desire to resume visitation with Sidney. Mother’s response after receiving the email was to file the private TPR Petition before us.
Mother’s evidence does not support the trial court’s finding that Father “willfully abandoned” Sidney during the relevant six-month period.
The trial court’s rejection of Mother’s allegations that Father had failed to pay child support or that Father was incapable of providing for the care and supervision of his daughter, Sidney, also supports Father’s claim he had not willfully eschewed his parental responsibilities in their entirety.
Abandonment implies conduct on the part of the parent which manifests a willful determination to forego all parental duties and relinquish all parental claims to the child. In this context, the word “willful” encompasses more than an intention to do a thing; there must also be purpose and deliberation. The trial court’s conclusion to terminate Father’s parental rights is not supported by its findings of fact of either “willful” and “purpose and deliberation” of Father’s intent to abandon Sidney.
In re S.I.D.-M. (Lawyers Weekly No. 011-038-23, 31 pp.) (Donna Stroud, C.J.) (John Tyson, J., concurring in part & dissenting in part) Appealed from Cabarrus County District Court (Christy Wilhelm, J.) Richard Croutharmel for respondent; no brief for petitioner. N.C. App.