An unpublished opinion of the North Carolina Court of Appeals does not constitute controlling legal authority.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

NO. COA05-1055

NORTH CAROLINA COURT OF APPEALS

Filed: 4 April 2006

In the Matter of:                     Pender County
S.R.B., C.A.B.                        Nos. 04 J 49-50

    Appeal by respondent from order entered 23 July 2004 by Judge Elton G. Tucker in Pender County District Court. Heard in the Court of Appeals 7 March 2006.

    Regina Floyd-Davis for petitioner-appellee Pender County Department of Social Services.

    R. Kent Harrell for Guardian Ad Litem.

    Duncan B. McCormick for respondent-appellant Stephanie B.

    CALABRIA, Judge.

    Respondent-mother (“Stephanie B.”) appeals from an order of the trial court, terminating her parental rights to S.R.B. (“S.R.B.”) and C.A.B. (“C.A.B.”) (collectively “the minor children”). We affirm.
    Stephanie B. and James B. (“James B.”) are the biological parents of the minor children. On 19 April 2004, the Pender County Department of Social Services (“D.S.S.”) filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of the biological parents. The petition alleged that grounds existed to terminate Stephanie B.'s parental rights based on neglect, willfully leaving the minor children in foster care for more than twelve months without showing to the satisfaction of the court that reasonable progress had beenmade, and failing to pay a reasonable portion of the cost of care for the minor children for a continuous period of six months next preceding the filing of the petition although physically and financially able to do so. The petition further alleged that grounds existed to terminate James B.'s parental rights. The Pender County District Court subsequently heard the matter of termination of Stephanie B.'s parental rights and made, inter alia, the following findings of fact:
        4. That [S.R.B.] and [C.A.B.] were adjudicated dependent Juveniles on 22 July 2002. Neither parent had stable, independent housing in which the children could reside. Respondent-Mother was reliant on various friends and relatives to provide shelter. Additionally, the Respondent-Mother and Respondent-Father admitted engaging in acts of domestic violence in the presence of the children. The exposure to said violence resulted in the Juvenile, [C.A.B.] exhibiting violent behaviors towards adults and children in his presence. 5. That the Respondent has willfully left the Juvenile in foster care in excess of twelve months without showing that reasonable progress under the circumstances has been made within twelve months in correcting the conditions which led to the removal of said Juveniles. 6. That approximately five (5) months after the Juveniles were removed from the home of the Respondent-Parents, Respondent-Mother still lacked stable housing. Within that period of time, she resided with relatives, friends and currently has temporary housing with a minister. 7. That the behavioral problems exhibited by the Juveniles diminished during the out-of- home placements; however, the behaviors resurfaced after visitations with the Respondent-mother. 8. That Respondent-Mother's reunification attempts improved to the extent of obtaining a psychological evaluation and beginning the recommended therapy sessions. Respondent-Parents rented housing and unsupervised visits began during the weekends Respondent-Father was in the residence. Subsequently, the Court authorized a trial placement with Respondent- Mother in May of 2003. Respondent-Mother was to continue individual therapy, ensure that the Juveniles' therapy sessions were kept and display appropriate parenting skills. 9. Less than four (4) months into the trial placement, the children had to be removed from Respondent-Mother's residence. [C.A.B.'s] violent outbursts and physical aggressions escalated. His classroom day was reduced to half-days due to his returned hostile behaviors. [S.R.B.] appeared to resume the withdrawn behaviors recognized before her removal from the family home. Instead of taking [S.R.B.] to school on the first day of elementary school, Respondent-Mother kept the child out of school so that Respondent-Mother could take her test at the community college. 10. That Respondent-Father left the family home to reside and maintain employment in Charleston, South Carolina. Respondent-Mother remained dependent on his income to maintain housing. 11. That when the children were removed from the Respondent-Mother for the second time, in a short period of time their behaviors again improved. [C.A.B.'s] violent behaviors regressed and his communication skills improved. [S.R.B.] became more outgoing. 12. That Respondent-Mother has received her GED in January of 2004, almost two years after the children came into the legal custody of the Pender County Department of Social Services. She has completed the Basic Law Enforcement Training Course; however, she has not obtained employment. 13. That the psychological evaluation conducted on Respondent-Mother indicated “that it is imperative that this woman be in a comprehensive treatment program involving antidepressant medication and individual therapy[.]” Respondent-Mother was prescribed an anti-depressant medication and was to return to the psychiatrist two months later. Respondent-mother never returned. She saw the therapist on two (2) occasions for individual counseling; however, she has not returned for counseling. . . . 15. That Respondent-Mother is without stable housing now, as was the case when the children were removed two (2) years ago. She was evicted from the previously rented residence due to her separation from her husband and his failure to continue to pay the rent for the residence. 16. That Respondent-Father testified that the children were better off in relative placement than with either parent. He indicated that the children were put through “hell” when residing with them and should not continue to suffer. Respondent-Father would like to execute consents for the adoption of the children by their present caretakers. 17. Respondent-Father and Respondent-Mother have resumed their marital relationship. However, Respondent-Father has never completed the court-ordered anger management course. . . . 19. That the best interests of the minor child will be served by termination of the parental rights of the Respondent-Mother, Stephanie Brown so that the Juveniles may be afforded an opportunity for adoption.

Based on these findings of fact, the trial court concluded in the adjudicatory phase that grounds existed to terminate Stephanie B.'s parental rights based on neglect and willfully leaving the minor children in foster care for more than twelve months without showing reasonable progress. The trial court then entered the dispositional phase and determined that termination of Stephanie B.'s parental rights was in the best interests of the minor children. Stephanie B. appeals.
    We initially address Stephanie B.'s argument that the trial court erred pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 7B-1109(e) (2003) and7B-1110 (a) (2003)   (See footnote 1)  by entering its order more than 30 days after the termination of parental rights hearing.
    North Carolina General Statutes § 7B-1109(e) states,
        The court shall take evidence, find the facts, and shall adjudicate the existence or nonexistence of any of the circumstances set forth in G.S. 7B-1111 which authorize the termination of parental rights of the respondent. The adjudicatory order shall be reduced to writing, signed, and entered no later than 30 days following the completion of the termination of parental rights hearing.

Similarly, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1110 (a) relates to the dispositional stage, and requires that a dispositional order be “reduced to writing, signed, and entered no later than 30 days following the completion of the termination of parental rights hearing.”
    In this case, the termination of parental rights hearing ended on 23 July 2004, and the trial court did not sign and reduce its order to writing until 21 September 2004, approximately two months later. In construing the statutory timelines, this Court has held that a violation of the statutory timelines is not reversible per se; rather, a respondent must establish prejudice resulting from the delay. In re P.L.P., __ N.C. App. __, __, 618 S.E.2d 241, 245 (2005). Stephanie B. argues that prejudice resulted because “the evidence and findings relating to the grounds for termination arerelatively weak, and [Stephanie B.] made significant progress with respect to her case plan.” We have held, “[t]he need to show prejudice in order to warrant reversal is highest the fewer number of days the delay exists . . . [a]nd the longer the delay in entry of the order beyond the thirty-day deadline, the more likely prejudice will be readily apparent.” In re O.S.W., __ N.C. App. __, __, 623 S.E.2d 349, 350 (2006) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Given the approximately one month delay in this case and Stephanie B.'s inadequate showing of prejudice, we hold that although the trial court erred in failing to comply with the statutory timelines, the error does not warrant reversal. Accordingly, the related assignments of error are without merit.
    Stephanie B. additionally argues that the trial court erred in determining that she neglected her children and that she willfully left her children in foster care for more than 12 months without making reasonable progress. Termination of parental rights is a two phase process. During the adjudicatory phase, the trial court considers whether the petitioner has shown by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence that one or more grounds for termination of parental rights exist. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111. On review of the adjudicatory phase, this Court considers whether: 1) the trial court's findings of fact are based on clear, cogent, and convincing evidence; and 2) the findings of fact support the conclusions of law. In re Huff, 140 N.C. App. 288, 291, 536 S.E.2d 838, 840 (2000) (citations and quotations omitted). If one or more statutory grounds exist for termination of parental rights, thetrial court then enters the dispositional phase and considers whether termination of a respondent's parental rights are in the best interests of the minor children. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1110 (a) (2003); In re Blackburn, 142 N.C. App. 607, 610, 543 S.E.2d 906, 908 (2001). On appeal from the dispositional phase, this Court considers whether the trial court abused its discretion in determining that terminating parental rights was in the best interests of the minor children. In re Brim, 139 N.C. App. 733, 744, 535 S.E.2d 367, 373 (2000). An abuse of discretion occurs if the trial court's determination is manifestly without reason. Clark v. Clark, 301 N.C. 123, 129, 271 S.E.2d 58, 63 (1980) (citations omitted).
    Respondent challenges several of the trial court's findings as not supported by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence. Specifically, she challenges findings of fact numbers 6, 10, and 15, stated supra. After reviewing the briefs, transcript, and record on appeal, we hold that finding of fact number 6 is supported by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence to the extent that it states “approximately five (5) months after the Juveniles were removed from the home of Respondent-Parents, Respondent-Mother still lacked stable housing. Within that period of time, she resided with relatives, [and] friends[.]” However, the finding is not supported by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence when it states she “currently [had] temporary housing with a minister.” There was no evidence of record to support a finding that Stephanie B. was living with a minister at the time of the termination ofparental rights hearing. To the contrary, James B. testified, as a D.S.S. witness, that he and Stephanie B. had reconciled and had been living in a house together for approximately three weeks prior to the hearing.
    Stephanie B. also challenges finding of fact 10, arguing that “[w]hile this finding is supported by the evidence, this finding may be misleading in that the trial court did not note that [James B.] had returned to North Carolina.” This Court is aware that the evidence shows, and D.S.S. does not contest, that James B. was living in North Carolina at the time of the hearing. Moreover, the trial court specifically found that Stephanie B. and James B. had resumed their marital relationship. As such, Stephanie B. need not be concerned that the finding is misleading. However, since Stephanie B. admits that the challenged finding is supported by the evidence, this assignment of error is without merit.
    Lastly, Stephanie B. argues that the trial court erred in making finding of fact 15 to the extent it states she “[was] without stable housing [at the time of the hearing], as was the case when the children were removed two (2) years ago.” The evidence presented at trial showed that Stephanie B. was currently living with James B.; however, the couple had been reunited for a period of only three or four weeks prior to the termination of parental rights hearing. In light of the evidence that: Stephanie B. had a history of inadequate housing; James B. had in the past separated from Stephanie B. and failed to provide her support; and James B. and Stephanie B. had only reconciled and lived in the sameresidence for a matter of weeks prior to the termination hearing, we hold the trial court's finding that Stephanie B. was “without stable housing” at the time of the hearing is supported by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence.
    This Court will affirm the adjudication phase if the trial court properly determined that any grounds for terminating parental rights exists under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111. In re P.L.P., __ N.C. App. at __, 618 S.E.2d at 246 (“[W]here 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'”) (citations omitted). We initially consider whether the trial court properly terminated Stephanie B.'s parental rights based on the ground that:
        The parent has willfully left the juvenile in foster care or placement outside the home for more than 12 months without showing to the satisfaction of the court that reasonable progress under the circumstances has been made in correcting those conditions which led to the removal of the juvenile. Provided, however, that no parental rights shall be terminated for the sole reason that the parents are unable to care for the juvenile on account of their poverty.

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a)(2) (2003). Pursuant to this statutory provision, we have held, “[w]illfulness is established when the respondent had the ability to show reasonable progress, but was unwilling to make the effort.” In re McMillon, 143 N.C. App. 402, 410, 546 S.E.2d 169, 175 (2001) (citations omitted). “Willfulness may be found where a parent has made some attempt to regain custodyof the child[ren] but has failed to exhibit 'reasonable progress or a positive response toward the diligent efforts of DSS.'” In re B.S.D.S., 163 N.C. App. 540, 545, 594 S.E.2d 89, 93 (2004) (citations omitted). “Extremely limited progress is not reasonable progress,” and “[i]mplicit in the meaning of positive response is that not only must positive efforts be made towards improving the situation, but that these efforts are obtaining or have obtained positive results.” In re Nolen, 117 N.C. App. 693, 700, 453 S.E.2d 220, 225 (1995) (citations omitted). Additionally, “[a] finding of willfulness does not require a showing of fault by the parent.” In re Oghenekevebe, 123 N.C. App. 434, 439, 473 S.E.2d 393, 398 (1996) (citations omitted).
    The trial court found the circumstances that led to the removal of the minor children as follows:
        [The minor children] were adjudicated dependent Juveniles on 22 July 2002. Neither parent had stable, independent housing in which the children could reside. Respondent- Mother was reliant on various friends and relatives to provide shelter. Additionally, the Respondent-Mother and Respondent-Father admitted engaging in acts of domestic violence in the presence of the children. The exposure to said violence resulted in the Juvenile, C.B. exhibiting violent behaviors towards adults and children in his presence.

In the case sub judice the trial court found, at the time of the termination hearing, Stephanie B. “[was] without stable housing now, as was the case when the children were removed two (2) years ago.” Moreover, despite the trial court's finding that Stephanie B. had obtained her G.E.D. and completed basic law enforcement training, it also found that Stephanie B. has not obtainedemployment. Additionally, although there was no evidence that domestic violence occurred between Stephanie B. and James B. during the time period in question, this does not necessarily indicate reasonable progress since the trial court found that, during this time, James B. “left the family home to reside and maintain employment in Charleston, South Carolina.” With the distance between Stephanie B. and James B., domestic violence was not likely to have occurred. Also pertinent to this issue, the trial court found that an evaluation of Stephanie B. “indicated 'that it is imperative that this woman be in a comprehensive treatment program involving antidepressant medication and individual therapy'” but that although she “saw the therapist on two (2) occasions for individual counseling . . . she has not returned for counseling.” Likewise, James B., with whom Stephanie B. chose to live at the time of the termination hearing, “never completed the court-ordered anger management course.” Based on these facts, we hold that the trial court did not err in concluding that Stephanie B. has willfully left the minor children in foster care for more than twelve months without making reasonable progress to correct the conditions that led to the removal of the minor children. Additionally, this conclusion was not based solely on Stephanie B.'s inability to care for the minor children because of poverty. We, therefore, find this assignment of error to be without merit.
    Since grounds existed to terminate Stephanie B.'s parental rights based on N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a)(2), we need notconsider whether alternative grounds for terminating Stephanie B.'s parental rights existed. Moreover, because Stephanie B. failed to argue the trial court erred in the dispositional phase in concluding that “termination of the parental rights of the Respondent-Mother to the Juveniles is in their best interests,” we deem her related assignment of error abandoned pursuant to N. C. R. App. 28(b)(6) (2006). Therefore, we need not consider the dispositional phase, and the order of the trial court is affirmed.
    Stephanie B. has failed to argue her remaining assignments of error on appeal, and we deem them abandoned pursuant to N.C. R. App. P. 28(b)(6). Moreover, any of Stephanie B.'s arguments not previously addressed in this opinion are beyond the scope of appeal since they were not properly made an assignment of error in accordance with N.C. R. App. P. 10 (2006).
    Affirmed.
    Judges McGEE and GEER concur.
    Report per Rule 30(e).


Footnote: 1
1. These statutes have recently been amended; however, the amended versions are only applicable to petitions or actions filed on or after 1 October 2005. N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 7B-1109(e), 7B-1110 (2005). Because the petition in the case sub judice was filed prior to that date, we apply the pre-amendment versions of the statutes.

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