IN THE MATTER OF: Haywood County
No. 04 J 35
Ira L. Dove, for petitioner-appellee Haywood County Department
of Social Services.
Charlotte Gail Blake for respondent-appellant mother.
Hall & Hall Attorneys at Law, P.C., by Susan P. Hall for respondent-appellant father.
Mrs. R.C.M. (respondent mother) and Mr. E.N.M. (respondent father) (collectively known as respondents) appeal an order terminating their parental rights. We affirm.
On 9 August 2002, the Haywood County Department of Social Services (D.S.S.) obtained a nonsecure custody order for A.N.M. (the minor child). That same day D.S.S. investigated allegations that respondent mother and respondent father permitted a convicted sexual offender (offender) to spend several evenings in their home where the minor child also resided and made no attempt to disallow contact between the minor child and the offender. Further, the D.S.S. investigation revealed the minor childwitnessed and was exposed to sexual activity by her sister. The trial court, pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-101(15), adjudicated the minor child a neglected juvenile on 3 April 2003.
On 19 September 2002, respondents entered into a family services case plan with D.S.S., however, after one month, they ended the relationship. Respondent mother moved to California in November 2002 and has only returned to North Carolina for court hearings. Respondent father remained in North Carolina and last visited the minor child in December 2002 because D.S.S. ceased visitation due to professional advice regarding the minor child.
On 31 July 2003, the trial court entered a permanency planning review order where the court, despite concerns regarding the minor child, determined D.S.S. should continue the plan to reunify the family. On 18 December 2003, the trial court entered a subsequent permanency planning review order changing the previous plan for reunification to adoption. On 27 August 2004, the trial court entered a termination of parental rights order pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 7B-1111(a)(1) (neglect), (a)(2) (juvenile in foster care for 12 months and little progress made to correct conditions which led to removal), and (a)(3) (cost of care) and concluded that based on clear, cogent and convincing evidence, grounds existed to terminate respondents' parental rights. That same day, the trial court ordered, pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1110(a), that it was in the best interests of the minor child to terminate the parental rights of respondents.
I. Standard of Review: A termination of parental rights proceeding involves two separate analytical phases: an adjudication stage and a dispositional stage. In re D.M.W., __ N.C. App. __, __, 619 S.E.2d 910, 913 (2005) (citation omitted). At the adjudication stage, the party petitioning for the termination must show by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence that grounds authorizing the termination of parental rights exist. In re Young, 346 N.C. 244, 247, 485 S.E.2d 612, 614 (1997). If a ground for termination is so established, the trial court must proceed to the second stage and hold a dispositional hearing. In re Faircloth, 153 N.C. App. 565, 575, 571 S.E.2d 65, 72 (2002). At the dispositional hearing, the trial court must consider whether termination is in the best interests of the child. Id. There, the court shall issue an order terminating...parental rights unless it further determines that the best interests of the child require otherwise. In re Blackburn, 142 N.C. App. 607, 610, 543 S.E.2d 906, 908 (2001). We review the trial court's best interests decision under an abuse of discretion standard. D.M.W., __ N.C. App. at __, 619 S.E.2d at 914.
II. Respondent mother:
Respondent mother argues the trial court erred in finding grounds existed to terminate her parental rights pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a)(3). She contends the following two reasons illustrate this error: first, no evidence existed regarding her actual working hours and wages to prove her ability to pay and second, the fact she placed the minor child on her insurance isevidence she provided more than zero support for the minor child. We disagree.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a)(3) (2005) provides parental rights may be terminated if
[t]he juvenile has been placed in the custody of a county department of social services, a licensed child-placing agency, a child-caring institution, 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 a reasonable portion of the cost of care for the juvenile although physically and financially able to do so.
A parent's ability to pay is the controlling characteristic of what is a reasonable portion of cost of foster care for the child which the parent must pay. A parent is required to pay that portion of the cost of foster care for the child that is fair, just and equitable based upon the parent's ability or means to pay. D.M.W., __ N.C. App. at __, 619 S.E.2d at 915 (citation omitted) (emphasis added). Furthermore, nonpayment constitutes a failure to pay a reasonable portion 'if and only if respondent [is] able to pay some amount greater than zero.' Id., (quoting In re Clark, 151 N.C. App. 286, 289, 565 S.E.2d 245, 247 (2002)).
In the instant case, the minor child was placed in the custody of D.S.S. on 9 August 2002. The minor child remained in the custody of D.S.S. until D.S.S. filed the petition to terminate respondent mother's parental rights on 25 February 2004. The trial court further determined the cost of care for the minor child during the six months immediately preceding the filing of the petition totaled $23,854.61. Respondent mother testified sheworked at Kaiser Permanente in California beginning 10 March 2003 where she earned $17.66 per hour and worked 40 hours per week. Despite her ability to pay, there is no evidence in the record respondent mother ever contributed any of her earnings to pay any portion of the minor child's care.
Respondent mother also asserts the act of placing the minor child on her insurance proves she contributed an amount more than zero to the minor child's cost of care. However, respondent mother testified she never provided D.S.S. with notice that the minor child was on her insurance. In fact, respondent mother testified she never contacted D.S.S. in North Carolina or California to establish a child support order. Further, though the minor child was added to respondent mother's insurance effective on 1 August 2004, respondent mother testified there have been no claims filed upon the minor child's behalf regarding her cost of care. Consequently, there is no evidence in the record of respondent mother contributing to the minor child's cost of care via insurance. Therefore, and in accordance with both N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a)(3) and D.M.W., supra, respondent mother willfully failed to pay a reasonable portion of the minor child's cost of care for a period of six months immediately preceding the filing of the petition to terminate her parental rights. This assignment of error is overruled.
Respondent mother also argues the trial court erred in finding and concluding grounds existed to terminate her parental rights pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 7B-1111(a)(1) and (a)(2) because shedid not neglect the minor child nor did she fail to make reasonable efforts to correct the condition that led to the minor child's removal from her home. However, where the trial court finds multiple grounds on which to base a termination of parental rights, and 'an appellate court determines there is at least one ground to support a conclusion that parental rights should be terminated, it is unnecessary to address the remaining grounds.' In re P.L.P., __ N.C. App. __, __, 618 S.E.2d 241, 246 (2005) (quoting In re Clark, 159 N.C. App. 75, 78, 582 S.E.2d 657, 659 n.3 (2003)). Consequently, because we determined evidence supported the trial court's conclusion to terminate respondent mother's parental rights pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a)(3), we need not address the remaining grounds cited for termination. This assignment of error is overruled.
Respondent mother finally argues the trial court erred and abused its discretion in determining her parental rights should be terminated. According to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111 (2005) however, [t]he court may terminate...parental rights upon a finding of one or more of the following enumerated rationales (emphasis added). Because the trial court found and this Court agreed respondent mother violated N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a)(3), the trial court properly terminated her parental rights. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B- 1110(a) (2003) (See footnote 1) (stating [s]hould the court determine that any oneor more of the conditions authorizing a termination of the parental rights of a parent exist, the court shall issue an order terminating the parental rights of such parent with respect to the juvenile....) Further, under an abuse of discretion standard, [t]he decision to terminate parental rights...will not be overturned on appeal absent a showing that the judge['s] actions were manifestly unsupported by reason. In re J.A.A., __ N.C. App. __, __, 623 S.E.2d 45, 51 (2005) (emphasis added). Here, the trial court's determination to terminate was manifestly supported by reason and moreover, the trial court was simply adhering to the statutory guidelines authorizing it to terminate parental rights if respondent mother's behavior came within any of the conditions listed in N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 7B-1111(a)(1) through (a)(9). We discern no abuse of discretion and thus, this assignment of error is overruled.
The remaining assignments of error asserted by respondent mother were not argued within her brief and thus, according to N.C. R. App. P. 28(b)(6) (2005), they are abandoned.
II. Respondent father:
Respondent father argues the trial court erred in finding he had not contributed to the financial support of the minor child pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a)(3). The trial court further found respondent father violated 7B-1111(a)(1) (neglect), (a)(2) (reasonable efforts to correct conditions which led to removal), and (a)(6) (incapability). However, respondent father failed to assign error to these three above cited statutory groundsto terminate his parental rights. Consequently, [b]ecause these grounds are therefore conclusively established, we need not address [respondent father's] argument concerning the other ground for termination found by the trial court. P.L.P., __ N.C. App. at __, 618 S.E.2d at 246. Since the trial court properly determined respondent father's parental rights should be terminated, we need not reach the remaining argued assignments of error.
The remaining assignments of error asserted by respondent father are not argued in his brief and therefore, are abandoned according to N.C. R. App. P. 28(b)(6) (2005).
Judges BRYANT and JOHN concur.
Report per Rule 30(e).
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