An unpublished opinion of the North Carolina Court of Appeals does not constitute controlling legal authority.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. COA04-1729

NORTH CAROLINA COURT OF APPEALS

Filed: 1 November 2005

IN THE MATTER OF:

L.T.M                    Cabarrus County
K.R.M.                    Nos.    02 J 136, 137 and 138
C.R.M.                        

                        

    Appeal by respondents from order dated 16 July 2004 by Judge Donna H. Johnson in District Court, Cabarrus County. Heard in the Court of Appeals 14 September 2005.

    Kathleen Arundell Widelski for petitioner-appellee Cabarrus County Department of Social Services; Victoria Bost for Guardian Ad Litem.

    M. Victoria Jayne for respondent-appellant P.M.

    Robert W. Ewing for respondent-appellant R.D.M.

    
    McGEE, Judge.

    The Cabarrus County Department of Social Services (DSS) filed juvenile petitions on 8 August 2002, alleging neglect of L.T.M., K.R.M., and C.R.M. (the children) by P.M. (respondent-mother) and R.D.M. (respondent-father) (collectively respondents). The children were initially removed from respondents' home and placed in foster care on 8 August 2002. The children were subsequently adjudicated neglected juveniles on 31 October 2002. Placement of the children was reviewed at three hearings between 30 January 2003 and 24 October 2003. At the third review hearing, designated as the permanency planning hearing, the trial court changed thepermanency plan from reunification to adoption.
    DSS filed a motion in the cause dated 22 January 2004 to terminate respondents' parental rights pursuant to Article 11, Chapter 7B of our General Statutes. DSS alleged that grounds for terminating respondents' parental rights existed under four different subsections of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a): subsection (1) neglect; subsection (2) children willfully left in foster care for more than twelve months; subsection (3) parents' willful failure to pay reasonable portion of cost of care for the children for a period of six months; and subsection (6) parents' incapability of proper care and supervision and a reasonable probability of continuation thereof.
    The trial court determined that termination of parental rights was warranted pursuant to all four of the grounds alleged by DSS. The trial court then concluded that it was in the best interests of the children to terminate respondents' parental rights and ordered termination on 16 July 2004. Respondents appeal.

Standard of Review

    Termination of parental rights proceedings are conducted in two phases: adjudication and disposition. See generally, In re Brim, 139 N.C. App. 733, 741, 535 S.E.2d 367, 371 (2000). During the adjudication phase, a petitioner has the burden of proving by clear, cogent and convincing evidence that one or more of the statutory grounds for termination exist. In re Blackburn, 142 N.C. App. 607, 610, 543 S.E.2d 906, 908 (2001). The statutory grounds for termination are set forth in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a)(2003). The standard for appellate review of a trial court's determination that grounds exist for termination of parental rights is whether the trial court's findings of fact are supported by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence, and whether those findings support its conclusions of law. In re Huff, 140 N.C. App. 288, 292, 536 S.E.2d 838, 841 (2000), disc. review denied, 353 N.C. 374, 547 S.E.2d 9 (2001).
    If a petitioner meets its burden of proving that there is at least one statutory ground on which to terminate parental rights, the trial court then moves to the disposition phase and must consider whether termination is in the best interests of the child. In re Blackburn, 142 N.C. App. at 610, 543 S.E.2d at 908. A trial court's decision to terminate parental rights is reviewed by an abuse of discretion standard. In re Brim, 139 N.C. App. at 745, 535 S.E.2d at 374.
Failure to Pay Reasonable Portion of Cost of Care

    Respondents assign error to the trial court's conclusion that termination of parental rights was warranted by N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a)(3). Specifically, respondents argue that the trial court failed to make sufficient findings to support its conclusion that respondents willfully failed to pay a reasonable portion of the cost of care for the children. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a)(3) (2003) provides for termination of parental rights where
        [t]he juvenile has been placed in the custody of a county department of social services . . . or a foster home, and the parent, for a continuous period of six months next preceding the filing of the petition or motion, has willfully failed for such period to pay areasonable portion of the cost of care for the juvenile although physically and financially able to do so.

A trial court must find that a parent has the ability to pay support before ordering termination for nonsupport on this ground. In re J.D.S., ___ N.C. App. ___, 612 S.E.2d 350 (2005).
    In this case, the trial court made detailed findings about respondents' employment history during the relevant six-month period from August 2003 to January 2004. The trial court found that respondent-father was employed by Bobby's Tire Service for a couple of months during the summer of 2003, earning $400.00 per week; that respondent-father was employed part-time by Lowe's Motor Speedway Security from July 2003 until the date of the hearing; and that respondent-father was employed by Nate's Tire Service for one month in October 2003, earning $10.00 per hour. The trial court found that respondent-mother was employed by Lowe's Motor Speedway in October 2003 and that she was employed by McDonald's for at least three weeks in October 2003. While so employed, respondents failed to pay any portion of the cost of care for the children.
    Despite the failure to pay any portion of the cost of care, respondents argue that termination on this ground is not warranted because the trial court failed to find what specific amount of support would have constituted a "reasonable portion."
    "[T]here is no requirement that the trial court make a finding as to what specific amount of support would have constituted a 'reasonable portion' under the circumstances." In re Huff, 140 N.C. App. at 293, 536 S.E.2d at 842. Rather, the pertinent caselaw "simply require[s] that the trial court make specific findings that a parent was able to pay some amount greater than the amount the parent, in fact, paid during the relevant time period." Id. (citing In re Garner, 75 N.C. App. 137, 141, 330 S.E.2d 33, 36 (1985); In re Manus, 82 N.C. App. 340, 349-50, 346 S.E.2d 289, 295 (1986)).
    The trial court made specific findings that respondents were able to pay some amount greater than the amount paid. Accordingly, we hold that the trial court did not err in concluding that respondents willfully failed to pay a reasonable portion of the cost of care for the children.
    Respondent-mother makes the additional argument that the trial court erred in finding that she willfully failed to pay a reasonable cost of care because there was insufficient evidence of willfulness on her part. She contends that the trial court needed to make a specific finding as to what was reasonable for respondent-mother to pay because the trial court also found that respondent-mother was mentally incapable of parenting under N.C.G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(6). Respondent-mother cites no authority for this position but seems to imply that because the trial court found that she suffered from mental illness, that it could not also find that she willfully failed to pay. As discussed above, the relevant inquiry for a trial court under N.C.G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(3) is whether a parent has the ability to pay some amount greater than the amount the parent in fact paid. In re Huff, 140 N.C. App. at 293, 536 S.E.2d at 842. In this case, the trial court made the specificfinding that respondent-mother was employed during the time the children were in foster care, "and therefore, had the ability to pay an amount greater than zero." Accordingly, this assignment of error is overruled.
    "[W]here we determine the trial court properly concluded that one ground exists to support the termination of parental rights, we need not address the remaining grounds." In re Clark, 159 N.C. App. 75, 84, 582 S.E.2d 657, 663 (2003); see In re Greene, 152 N.C. App. 410, 416, 568 S.E.2d 634, 638 (2002). Because we hold that termination of parental rights was proper under N.C.G.S. § 7B- 1111(a)(3), we need not address respondents' assignments of error pertaining to the remaining grounds on which the trial court based its decision. See In re Ballard, 63 N.C. App. 580, 306 S.E.2d 150 (1983), rev'd on other grounds, 311 N.C. 708, 319 S.E.2d 227 (1984).
    Affirmed.
    Judges McCULLOUGH and JACKSON concur.
    Report per Rule 30(e).

*** Converted from WordPerfect ***