IN THE MATTER OF:
L.A.A. No. 05 JT 110
Janna D. Allison for petitioner-appellee-mother.
Thomas B. Kakassy for respondent-appellant-father.
MARTIN, Chief Judge.
Nathaniel A. (respondent) appeals from an order terminating
his parental rights to the minor child L.A.A. For the reasons
stated below, the trial court's termination order is vacated and
remanded for entry of a proper order.
April M. (petitioner), the child's mother, filed a petition on 9 September 2005 to terminate respondent's parental rights. She alleged respondent had willfully abandoned the minor child for at least six consecutive months immediately preceding the filing of this petition. Respondent denied the allegation in his answer and moved to dismiss the petition on 3 March 2006.
The trial court heard the matter on 5 October 2006. Petitioner, her mother, the Guardian ad Litem, and a transport officer with the Henderson County Sheriff's Department testified atthe hearing. Respondent declined to testify after being informed of his Fifth Amendment rights. After hearing arguments from counsel, the trial court took the matter under advisement. Although the trial court made nineteen findings of fact in its order entered on 20 October 2006, its order contains no statement of the standard of proof applied in the adjudicatory stage of the termination proceedings. The trial court's order also contains no findings of fact or conclusions of law as to the best interests of the child. In an amended notice of appeal filed on 6 November 2006, respondent appeals from the trial court's termination order.
Respondent asserts the trial court erred in failing to apply the proper evidentiary standard to its findings of fact, and he argues the trial court did not state in its order that its findings of fact are based upon clear, cogent and convincing evidence. Respondent further asserts the trial court failed to make any findings of fact or conclusions of law concerning the best interests of the child as required by N.C.G.S. § 7B-1110 (2005) before terminating his parental rights. We agree.
Pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 7B-1109(f) (2005), the trial court is required to state affirmatively in its order the standard of proof utilized in the termination proceeding. In re Church, 136 N.C. App. 654, 657, 525 S.E.2d 478, 480 (2000). The order from which respondent appeals does not indicate the evidentiary standard utilized by the trial court making its adjudicatory findings of fact. The trial court's failure here to recite the standard of proof applied in the adjudicatory stage of the terminationproceedings is error. Id. Additionally, after concluding during the adjudicatory stage that grounds for termination existed, the trial court in its order failed to make the statutorily-required determination of whether terminating the parent's rights is in the juvenile's best interest. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1110(a). Accordingly, the termination order is vacated and remanded for entry of an order which contains both the evidentiary standard utilized by the trial court in making its adjudicatory findings of fact and a best interests determination by the trial court in the dispositional stage. The trial court may receive additional evidence on remand. See Heath v. Heath, 132 N.C. App. 36, 38, 509 S.E.2d 804, 805 (1999). In light of our decision, we decline to address respondent's three remaining assignments of error.
Vacated and remanded.
Judges HUNTER and BRYANT concur.
Report per Rule 30(e).
*** Converted from WordPerfect ***