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Domestic Violence Protective Orders and Termination of Parental Rights

IN THE MATTER OF: E.Q.B., M.Q.B., S.R.R.B., 2023-NCCOA-______ (2023) 

Sometimes a parent will commit an act of domestic violence against the other parent or involving the child. In these cases, a domestic violence protective order (DVPO) can be entered to cut off contact between the offender and the parent/child. Subsequently, if the offender then faces a petition to terminate his/her parental rights, then that DVPO cannot be used as a shield to prevent the termination, so long as the grounds are factually established.


Father and Mother were married and had children together. Father was incarcerated in 2010. In 2013, Mother and Father divorced. When Father was released in 2015, the parents reconciled for a brief period. Father again returned to prison in 2016. When released in 2019, Father and mother again lived together with the children. They again separated in 2020.

This time, Father called and made threats against Mother and the children. Mother blocked Father’s number. Father used other numbers to contact her. In early 2020, some money was transfered to the children from Father to the children via Father’s aunt. Aside from this money, the trial court did not find that Father had any contact with the children.

In 2021, Mother obtained a DVPO based on Father’s threats, which prevented Father from contacting Mother and denying visitation with the children. In March of 2021, Mother filed for termination of parental rights (TPR). The trial court ultimately found that Father had abandoned the children and grounds existed to terminate Father’s rights. Father appealed.  


Did the trial court err by finding grounds for termination in light of the DVPO prohibiting contact? 

Holding: No.  


Willful Abandonment has a six-month window where a parent’s conduct shows a willful determination to forego all parental duties and relinquish all parental claims to the child. Contact between parent and child can show that there was no abandonment. Similarly, gifts, cards, support, and consistent inquiries as to the health and wellbeing of the children can help stave off abandonment. Father argued that for half that time, he was barred from contacting the mother and children. However, Father did nothing in this six-month period.

The Court noted that Father had not pursued custody in any fashion; he did not file a claim for custody; he did not attempt to contact the children by other means or through other family members (the subsequent DVPO was only limiting contact with mother); and he gave no support. This was competent evidence of abandonment.