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In re I.R.L.

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

January 15, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF: I.R.L.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 6 December 2018.

          Appeal by Respondent-Father from order entered 12 February 2018 by Judge Herbert Richardson in Robeson County No. 17 JT 76 District Court.

          Jennifer A. Clay for Petitioner-Appellee Mother.

          Richard Croutharmel for Respondent-Appellant Father.

          DILLON, Judge.

         This appeal arises from a termination of parental rights action between two parents. Respondent-father ("Father") appeals from the trial court's order terminating his parental rights to the minor child, I.R.L. ("Ivey").[1] We hold that Father did not receive sufficient notice that his parental rights were subject to termination and that the trial court failed to make sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding the willfulness of Father's conduct. Therefore, we reverse and remand to the trial court.

         I. Background

         Petitioner-mother ("Mother") and Father were in a relationship, but not married, when Ivey was born in February 2014. The parties lived together from January 2015 until 31 March 2015, when Father forced Mother to leave the home with Ivey. Mother has had sole custody of Ivey since her birth.

         In April 2016, Mother obtained a domestic violence protective order ("DVPO") against Father. According to the DVPO, on 18 March 2016, Father went to Mother's home late at night unannounced, banged on her door, and threatened to kill her. Father assaulted Mother by hitting and choking her. The DVPO was in effect for one year, until April 2017. The DVPO ordered Father not to have any contact with Mother, but did not forbid contact with any minor children residing with her.

         In March 2017, one month before the DVPO was set to expire, Father filed a pro se civil complaint for visitation with Ivey. That same day, Mother filed a petition to terminate Father's parental rights to Ivey alleging the grounds of failure to establish paternity, failure to pay support, and abandonment. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a)(5), (4), and (7) (2017). Mother alleged Father had not contacted or seen Ivey since March 2015 and had not paid any financial support.

         In February 2018, following a hearing on the matter, the trial court entered an order terminating Father's parental rights to Ivey, concluding that Father had failed to pay child support and had abandoned Ivey and that termination of Father's parental rights was in Ivey's best interests. Father timely appealed.

         II. Standard of Review

         We review a trial court's termination of parental rights "to determine whether clear, cogent, and convincing evidence exists to support the court's findings of fact, and whether the findings of fact support the court's conclusions of law." In re C.J.H., 240 N.C.App. 489, 497, 772 S.E.2d 82, 88 (2015). When the trial court's findings of fact "are supported by ample, competent evidence, they are binding on appeal, even though there may be evidence to the contrary." In re Williamson, 91 N.C.App. 668, 674, 373 S.E.2d 317, 320 (1988). We review the trial court's conclusions of law de novo. ...


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