IN THE MATTER OF E.H.P. and K.L.P.
pursuant to N.C. G.S. § 7B-1001(a1)(1) from orders
entered on 14 January 2019 by Judge Monica Leslie in District
Court, Graham County. This matter was calendared for argument
in the Supreme Court on 1 August 2019 but determined on the
record and briefs without oral argument pursuant to Rule
30(f) of the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Procedure.
brief for petitioner-appellee mother.
C. Sotolongo, Parent Defender, by Annick Lenoir-Peek, Deputy
Parent Defender, for respondent-appellant father.
case involves a termination of parental rights proceeding
initiated by petitioner-mother (petitioner) against
respondent-father (respondent). In this appeal, we consider
whether the trial court erred by terminating respondent's
parental rights based upon the grounds of willful abandonment
and willful failure to pay child support. Because we conclude
that sufficient evidence existed to support the termination
of respondent's parental rights on the basis of willful
abandonment and that the trial court did not abuse its
discretion in determining that termination of
respondent's parental rights would be in the
children's best interests, we affirm the trial
and Procedural Background
and respondent were married in 2007 and had two daughters
together. Kelly and Emily (the children) were born in 2006
and 2009, respectively.The parties separated in 2012.
August 2013, petitioner filed a motion for temporary
emergency custody of the children. In the Temporary Custody
Judgment entered in District Court, Graham County on 17
December 2013, petitioner was awarded sole temporary custody
of the children "until such time as this matter is
resolved by the Court through a permanent custody
hearing." The Temporary Custody Judgment contained the
following pertinent findings of fact:
5. [Respondent] did not appear for the hearing of this matter
and has never filed any form of responsive pleading, motion,
or other such documentation in response to [petitioner's]
6. The Court takes Judicial notice . . . that the
[respondent] was in fact validly served and provided Notice
of this hearing by the Sheriff of Loudon County, Tennessee,
where [respondent] had been incarcerated.
. . . .
9. Throughout the relationship of the parties, the
[respondent] committed numerous acts of domestic violence
against the [petitioner].
10. The parties separated on July 23, 2012 due to the
[respondent's] drug addiction and a series of acts of
domestic violence by the [respondent] . . . against the
[petitioner] wherein the [respondent] choked the [petitioner]
and hit her in the face with his elbow causing bruising and a
laceration to the person of the [petitioner].
11. The minor children of the parties were present while the
[respondent] engaged in the acts of violence against the
. . . .
14. The [respondent] is addicted to methamphetamine and
currently has charges pending against him in the State of
North Carolina and Tennessee for larceny, assault on a female
by strangulation, and drug related charges.
Temporary Custody Judgment further provided that respondent
"shall have no contact with the minor children until
allowed such by further Order of this Court." Respondent
never filed any motions seeking to alter the custody
arrangement set forth in the Temporary Custody Judgment.
June 2018, petitioner filed petitions seeking to terminate
respondent's parental rights to both children on the
grounds of willful failure to pay child support and willful
abandonment pursuant to N.C. G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(4) and
(7), respectively. Petitioner alleged that respondent had
willfully failed to pay child support for a continuous period
of six months immediately preceding the filing of the
petitions. She further alleged that respondent had neither
attempted to see or communicate with the children during the
six years preceding the filing of the petitions nor sent the
children any cards or presents during that time period.
was served with the petitions at the Sampson County
Correctional Institution in Clinton, North Carolina, where he
had been incarcerated since January 2018 and was serving an
eight-month sentence for violating his probation. On 17 July
2018, he filed answers to the ...