IN THE MATTER OF A.U.D. and A.X.D.
pursuant to N.C. G.S. § 7B-1001(a1)(1) from an order
entered on 20 December 2018 by Judge Donald Cureton Jr. in
District Court, Mecklenburg County. This matter was
calendared in the Supreme Court on 11 September 2019 but
determined on the record and briefs without oral argument
pursuant to Rule 30(f) of the North Carolina Rules of
Heyward Wall Law, P.A., by Heyward G. Wall, for
petitioner-appellant Bethany Christian Services.
Eldred for respondent-appellee father.
case involves a private termination of parental rights
proceeding initiated by petitioner Bethany Christian Services
(BCS) against respondent-father. In this appeal, we consider
whether the trial court erred by declining to terminate
respondent's parental rights to his children based on its
determination that termination would not be in the best
interests of the children. Because we conclude that the trial
court's ruling was within its discretion, we affirm.
and Procedural Background
Tanya and respondent began a
relationship in 2016, and Tanya became pregnant with twin
girls, Amy and Ann (collectively, the children), shortly
thereafter. The parties never married, and their relationship
ended prior to the children's birth. In September 2016,
Tanya falsely informed respondent that she had miscarried and
ended contact with him. In January 2017, respondent
encountered Tanya at the hospital where she worked and
noticed that she appeared to be pregnant. However, respondent
did not ask her about the pregnancy.
pled guilty to being a habitual felon in February 2017 after
being convicted of assault with a deadly weapon with the
intent to kill or inflict serious injury. While
incarcerated, respondent learned that Tanya was, in fact,
pregnant and due to deliver in May 2017. In April 2017,
respondent wrote to North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services
for assistance in establishing paternity. Per its
instructions, he attempted to submit a complaint and
affidavit of parentage with Mecklenburg County Child Support
Enforcement, but the documents were never actually filed with
the clerk of court.
the children's birth in May 2017, Tanya initially cared
for them. In June 2017, however, she placed them in the care
of Sarah, the children's maternal aunt. On 3 August 2017,
Tanya relinquished her parental rights to the children to
BCS, an adoption agency. Later that month, Tanya visited
Sarah's home with two social workers, who proceeded to
take custody of the children. Shortly thereafter, Sarah
obtained emergency custody of the children in District Court,
Mecklenburg County. BCS filed a motion to intervene in the
custody action and was awarded custody. BCS subsequently
placed the children with a prospective adoptive family, where
they have lived through the present date.
August 2017, BCS filed a petition to terminate
respondent's parental rights in District Court, Wake
County on the grounds of neglect, failure to legitimate, and
dependency. See N.C. G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(1), (5),
(6) (2017). Respondent then sought an adjudication of
paternity and filed an answer to BCS's petition. The
results of respondent's DNA test showed a 99.99%
probability of paternity as to the children. Respondent also
executed an affidavit of parentage. On 18 May 2018, the court
entered an order declaring him to be the children's
father. In August 2018, the court granted respondent's
motion to change venue, and the termination of parental
rights matter was moved to Mecklenburg County.
hearing on the petition to terminate respondent's
parental rights was held before the Honorable Donald Cureton
Jr. on 7 December 2018 in District Court, Mecklenburg County.
At the hearing, the trial court heard testimony from
respondent, Tanya, Sarah, the children's guardian ad
litem, and the prospective adoptive parents.
December 2018, the trial court entered an order in which it
concluded that although a ground existed to terminate
respondent's parental rights under N.C. G.S. §
7B-1111(a)(5), termination was not in the best interests of
the children. Accordingly, the trial court denied BCS's
petition. BCS gave timely notice of appeal to this Court.
appeal, BCS argues that the trial court failed to make
sufficient findings of fact in its 20 December 2018 order and
abused its discretion when it determined that termination of
respondent's parental rights was not in the best
interests of the children. Our Juvenile Code provides for a
two-stage process for the termination of parental rights-an
adjudicatory stage and a dispositional stage. N.C. G.S.
§§ 7B-1109, -1110 (2017). At the adjudicatory
stage, the petitioner bears the burden of proving by
"clear, cogent, and convincing evidence" the
existence of one or more grounds for termination under
section 7B-1111(a) of the General Statutes. N.C. G.S. §
7B-1109(f). We review a trial court's adjudication under
N.C. G.S. § 7B-1109 "to determine whether the
findings are supported by clear, cogent and convincing
evidence and the findings support the conclusions of
law." In re Montgomery, 311 N.C. 101, 111, 316
S.E.2d 246, 253 (1984) (citation omitted).
the trial court determined that there was sufficient evidence
presented to terminate respondent's parental rights
pursuant to N.C. G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(5). Neither party has
challenged this portion of the trial court's ruling, and
this issue is therefore not before us.
trial court finds one or more grounds to terminate parental
rights under N.C. G.S. § 7B-1111(a), it then proceeds to
the dispositional stage. N.C. G.S. § 7B-1110(a) states,
in pertinent part, as follows:
After an adjudication that one or more grounds for
terminating a parent's rights exist, the court shall
determine whether terminating the parent's rights is in
the juvenile's best interest . . . In each case, the
court shall consider the following criteria and make written
findings regarding the following that are relevant:
(1) The age of the juvenile.
(2) The likelihood of adoption of the juvenile.
(3) Whether the termination of parental rights will aid in
the accomplishment of the permanent plan for the juvenile.
(4) The bond between the juvenile and the parent.
(5) The quality of the relationship between the juvenile
and the proposed adoptive parent, guardian, custodian, or
other permanent placement.
(6) Any relevant consideration.
N.C. G.S. § 7B-1110(a).
trial court's assessment of a juvenile's best
interests at the dispositional stage is reviewed solely for
abuse of discretion. In re D.L.W., 368 N.C. 835,
842, 788 S.E.2d 162, 167 (2016) (citing In re
L.M.T., 367 N.C. 165, 171, 752 S.E.2d 453, 457 (2013);
In re Montgomery, 311 N.C. at 110, 316 S.E.2d at
252). "[A]buse of discretion results where the
court's ruling is manifestly unsupported by reason or is
so arbitrary that it could not have been the result of a
reasoned decision." In re T.L.H., 368 N.C. 101,
107, 772 S.E.2d 451, 455 (2015) (citing State v.
Hennis, 323 N.C. 279, 285, 372 S.E.2d 523, 527 (1988)).
the trial court made the following findings of fact regarding
the statutory criteria set forth in N.C. G.S. §
14. The twin girls were born May 5, 2017.
. . . .
43. The children were placed with the PAF [prospective
adoptive family] in October 2017. The children have lived
with this family continuously, ...