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In re Z.V.A.

Supreme Court of North Carolina

December 6, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF: Z.V.A.

         Appeal pursuant to N.C. G.S. § 7B-1001(a1)(1) from order entered on 1 March 2019 by Judge J.H. Corpening II in District Court, New Hanover County. This matter was calendared in the Supreme Court on 7 November 2019 but was determined on the record and briefs without oral argument pursuant to Rule 30(f) of the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Procedure.

          Jill Cairo for petitioner-appellee Social Services of New Hanover County and K&L Gates LLP, by Abigail F. Williams, for appellee Guardian ad Litem.

          David A. Perez for respondent-appellant father.

          Richard Croutharmel for respondent-appellant mother.

          MORGAN, JUSTICE.

         Respondent-father, who is the legal father of the minor child Z.V.A. (Zoey[1]), and respondent-mother appeal from the district court's order terminating their parental rights to Zoey. We affirm.

         Factual Background and Procedural History

         On 15 December 2016, the New Hanover County Department of Social Services (DSS) received a Child Protective Services report regarding three-day-old Zoey. The report indicated that there was domestic violence between respondent-parents, that respondent-father had issues with alcohol and assaultive behavior, and that respondent-mother had developmental and cognitive issues. In response to the report, DSS began providing in-home services to the family. DSS had previously worked with respondent-parents from 2012 to 2015 in an attempt to address issues with an older child. However, the previous case ended with respondent-father relinquishing his parental rights to the older child and respondent-mother having her parental rights terminated by order of the court.

         On 30 March 2017, a DSS social worker visiting respondent-parents' residence noticed that respondent-mother had recently been crying. When asked about her emotional state, respondent-mother reported that respondent-father had become angry and had struck respondent-mother while she was putting Zoey down for a nap. On 3 April 2017, DSS filed a petition alleging that Zoey was a neglected and dependent juvenile. Zoey was placed in the nonsecure custody of DSS.

         On 12 July 2017, the district court entered an order adjudicating Zoey as a neglected juvenile based on findings of fact to which respondent-parents stipulated. Respondent-parents were both ordered to complete psychological evaluations and vocational rehabilitation services, and to comply with any resulting recommendations; to engage in parenting education programs; to refrain from drug and alcohol use; and to provide an adequate living environment for Zoey. Respondent-father was additionally ordered to participate in paternity testing and to engage in domestic violence programs. Zoey remained in DSS custody.

         On 22 June 2018, the district court entered a permanency planning order. The district court detailed the progress made by respondent-parents on their respective case plans. The district court also found that respondent-parents were unable to translate what they supposedly learned while working their case plans into successfully changing their behaviors, and as a result, Zoey could not be returned to the family home. The district court set the permanent plan as adoption with a concurrent plan of reunification and ordered DSS to proceed with termination of respondents' parental rights.

         On 2 July 2018, DSS filed a petition to terminate respondents' parental rights pursuant to N.C. G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(1)-(2) (2017). On 10 July 2018, Zoey was placed with her maternal aunt in New Jersey.

         The termination hearing was conducted from 29-31 October 2018. On 1 March 2019, the district court entered an order finding that the evidence established facts sufficient to support the termination of both respondents' parental rights pursuant to N.C. G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(1).[2] The district court also concluded that it was in Zoey's best interest for her parents' rights to be terminated and thereupon, terminated respondents' parental rights. Respondents each gave timely notice of appeal to this Court pursuant to N.C. G.S. §§ 7A-27(a)(5) and 7B-1001(a1)(1).[3]

         Respondent-Mother's ...


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