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 Appellate Procedure.
Wall Law, P.A., Garner, 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
respondents 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
courts ruling was within its discretion, we affirm.
Factual 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 childrens 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 childrens birth in May 2017, Tanya initially cared for
them. In June 2017, however, she placed them in the care of
Sarah, the childrens maternal aunt. On 3 August 2017, Tanya
relinquished her parental rights to the children to BCS, an
adoption agency. Later that month, Tanya visited Sarahs 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 respondents
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 BCSs petition. The results of respondents 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 childrens father. In August 2018, the court granted
respondents motion to change venue, and the termination of
parental rights matter was moved to Mecklenburg County.
hearing on the petition to terminate respondents 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 childrens 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
respondents 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 BCSs 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
respondents 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
courts 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 respondents parental rights pursuant
to N.C.G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(5). Neither party has challenged
this portion of the trial courts 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 parents rights exist, the court shall
determine whether terminating the parents rights is in the
juveniles 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
(6) Any relevant ...