An unpublished opinion of the North Carolina Court of Appeals does not constitute controlling legal authority. Citation is disfavored, but may be permitted in accordance with the provisions of Rule 30(e)(3) of the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Proced ure.

NO. COA02-861
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Filed: 15 April 2003


CASEY PATRICK VAUGHN                Harnett County
JONATHAN KIRK VAUGHN                No. 00 J 184/185

    Appeal by respondent from order entered 26 February 2002 by Judge Albert A. Corbett, Jr., in Harnett County District Court. Heard in the Court of Appeals 7 April 2003.

    Donald E. Harrop, Jr. for petitioner-appellee Harnett County Department of Social Services.

    Morgan, Reeves & Gilchrist, by C. Winston Gilchrist for respondent-appellant Teresa Vaughn.

    Patterson, Dilthey, Clay & Bryson, L.L.P., by Sheila W. Chavis, guardian ad litem.

    MARTIN, Judge.

    Teresa Bond Vaughn (respondent) appeals from an order terminating her parental rights as the mother of Casey Patrick Vaughn, born 30 March 1997 and Jonathan Kirk Vaughn, born 11 May 1992. On 23 August 2000, the Harnett County Department of Social Services (DSS) filed two petitions to terminate the parental rights of respondent and Timothy Kirk Vaughn, the father of the two minor children. Petitioner specifically alleged that respondent had: (1) neglected the minor children; (2) willfully left the minor children in foster care for more than twelve months without showing any reasonable progress under the circumstances within twelvemonths to correct the problems which led to the minor children's removal; and (3) failed to pay a reasonable portion of support for the minor children for a continuous period of six months after the minor children had been placed in the custody of DSS. Respondent answered, denying the material allegations on 13 October 2000. On 26 February 2002, the trial court terminated respondent's parental rights based on the statutory grounds set forth in G.S. §§ 7B- 1111(a)(1) and (2) (2001). The trial court also terminated the parental rights of Timothy Kirk Vaughn, who is not a party to this appeal. Respondent appeals from the order terminating her parental rights.
    A termination of parental rights proceeding is conducted in two phases: (1) the adjudication phase which is governed by G.S. § 7B-1109 and (2) the disposition phase which is governed by G.S. § 7B-1110. See In re Brim, 139 N.C. App. 733, 535 S.E.2d 367 (2000). During the adjudication stage, petitioner has the burden of proof by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence that one or more of the statutory grounds set forth in G.S. § 7B-1111 for termination exists. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1109(e)-(f) (2001). The standard of appellate review is whether the trial court's findings of fact are supported by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence and whether the findings of fact support the conclusions of law. In re Huff, 140 N.C. App. 288, 536 S.E.2d 838 (2000), disc. review denied, 353 N.C. 374, 547 S.E.2d 9 (2001).
    If petitioner meets its burden of proof that grounds for termination exist, the trial court then moves to the dispositionphase and must consider whether termination is in the best interests of the child. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1110(a) (2001). The trial court has discretion, if it finds by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence that at least one of the statutory grounds exists, to terminate parental rights upon a finding that it would be in the best interests of the child. In re Blackburn, 142 N.C. App. 607, 543 S.E.2d 906 (2001). The trial court's decision to terminate parental rights is reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard. In re Brim , 139 N.C. App. at 744, 535 S.E.2d at 373.
    Respondent first assigns error to the trial court's failure to hold a separate dispositional hearing under G.S. § 7B-1110. Respondent further argues that because the trial court did not give her notice that it was conducting the dispositional hearing, she was unable to present evidence regarding the best interest of her children. We disagree.
    This Court has stated that although termination of parental rights proceedings require a two-step process, “[t]here is no requirement that the adjudicatory and dispositional stages be conducted at two separate hearings.” In re Parker, 90 N.C. App. 423, 430, 368 S.E.2d 879, 884 (1988) (citing In re White, 81 N.C. App. 82, 85, 344 S.E.2d 36, 38, disc. review denied, 318 N.C. 283, 347 S.E.2d 470 (1986)). Furthermore, during the dispositional stage, the court may consider evidence that was heard or introduced throughout the adjudicatory stage, In re Blackburn, 142 N.C. App. 607, 543 S.E.2d 906 (2001), and there is no burden of proof on either party. See In re Dexter, 147 N.C. App. 110, 553 S.E.2d 922(2001); N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1110(a) (2001). Accordingly, this assignment of error is overruled.
    Respondent also assigns error to certain findings of fact and conclusions of law by the trial court arguing that there was not clear, cogent, and convincing evidence to support a termination of her parental rights under the two grounds upon which the trial court based its decision. Respondent asserts the trial court terminated her rights based solely on evidence of substance abuse. We find the evidence sufficient to support the order terminating parental rights and affirm the decision of the trial court.
    G.S. § 7B-1111(a) provides nine separate grounds upon which an order terminating parental rights may be based. A court's finding of one of the statutory grounds for termination, if supported by competent evidence, will support an order terminating parental rights. In re Nolen, 117 N.C. App. 693, 453 S.E.2d 220 (1995). The trial court's decision to terminate parental rights is reviewed using an abuse of discretion standard. In re Allred, 122 N.C. App. 561, 471 S.E.2d 84 (1996).
A trial court may terminate parental rights under 7B-1111(a)(2) upon a finding that:
        The parent has willfully left the juvenile in foster care or placement outside the home for more than 12 months without showing . . . that reasonable progress under the circumstances has been made in correcting those conditions which led to the removal of the juvenile.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a)(2) (2001).
    In support of its conclusion that respondent's parental rightsshould be terminated pursuant to G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(2), the trial court entered the following pertinent findings of fact:
            12. On January 9, 1998 Judge Edward H. McCormick found the juveniles to be neglected and dependent in that the parents failed to provide adequate care for the juveniles, did not provide appropriate food and shelter, allowed the juveniles to live in an environment injurious to their welfare, and had no place for the juveniles to live. The court found that the mother suffered from a mental illness and did not obtain appropriate treatment for that illness. The court also found that the parents were users of crack cocaine and that the use of said substance impaired their ability to care for the children.

. . .

            15b. The mother has willfully left the children in foster care for a period of over twelve months without showing to the satisfaction of the court that she has made reasonable progress under the circumstances within twelve months to correct those problems which led to the removal of the children. The children have been in foster care since December 1997. One of the reasons for the removal of the children was the mother's drug addiction. Since the removal of the children, the mother has had a considerable number of drug relapses. She relapsed in May of 1998 and went to rehabilitation in Butner; she relapsed in October, 1998 and went to rehabilitation at the Oxford House; she relapsed in July, 1999 when she tested positive for cocaine; she relapsed in January, 2000; in February, 2000 she admitted using drugs; in May, 2000 she again admitted still using drugs and in August 2000 she admitted to a relapse. Additionally, in September, 2000 she relapsed and indicated to Randy Barwick that she could not control her drug use and could not be a parent because she could not take care of herself. She also told Jonathan she could not be a parent to him. Finally, she called Raheina Bond in March 2001 and stated she was using drugs again, and wantedto return to rehabilitation at the Oxford House. She has not maintained a stable or suitable home for the children.

            16. It is in the best interests of the children for the parental rights to be terminated. Casey was less than two years old at the time he came into care and Jonathan was less than eight years old. They are doing well, though Jonathan does have some trouble in school. Jonathan has stated that he wants to move on with his life and be adopted.

    We have examined the record and determined that these findings are based upon orders entered in the case, the testimony of respondent's step-mother and social workers Anne Verdin and Rainey Barwick who interviewed and evaluated respondent. It is undisputed that the children have been in foster care over twelve months. At the time of the termination hearing, Casey and Jonathan had been in foster care for over thirty-six months.    
    The record shows that the trial court not only found that respondent abused drugs, but that she also failed to keep a stable home for her children. The adjudication order indicates that the specific conditions which led to Casey and Jonathan's removal were the presence of substance abuse, domestic violence, the lack of sufficient funds to support the juveniles, and a pending eviction notice. Social workers Verdin and Barwick testified that although respondent had sought treatment for her addiction while her children were in foster care, she relapsed several times. In fact, respondent confided in her step-mother in March of 2001, that “she had used again.” The evidence also showed that respondent's last known address was High Point and that she was living with a male friend who was a recovering addict. Accordingly, we find the trialcourt's findings are supported by clear, cogent and convincing evidence.
    We further hold that these findings support the court's conclusion that Teresa Vaughn was subject to having her parental rights terminated pursuant to G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(2). See, e.g., In re Nolen, 117 N.C. App. 693, 453 S.E.2d 220 (1995) (parent's refusal to obtain treatment for alcoholism constituted willful failure to correct conditions that had led to removal of child from home); In re Oghenekevebe, 123 N.C. App. 434, 473 S.E.2d 393 (1996) (respondent willfully left child in foster care where she did not take advantage of DSS assistance with services such as counseling and parenting classes to improve her situation). Respondent fails to show, nor do we find, that the trial court abused its discretion in terminating her parental rights. See Dept. of Social Services v. Roberts, 22 N.C. App. 658, 207 S.E.2d 368 (1974).
    Because we have determined that one of the grounds set forth in G.S. § 7B-1111(a) supports the trial court's order, we need not address respondent's challenge to the trial court's termination on other grounds. See In re Allred, 122 N.C. App. 561, 471 S.E.2d 84 (1996).
    Accordingly, the trial court's order terminating respondent's parental rights is affirmed.
    Judges McCULLOUGH and CALABRIA concur.
    Report per Rule 30(e).

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