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Termination of Parental Rights – Facts Matter

IN RE: A.W., 2023-NCCOA-________ (2023). 

  1. Facts: Orange County DSS received a report for domestic violence that occurred in September 2018, where Father dragged Mother into another room by her hair, struck her in the back of the head, threw her against a wall, and essentially choked Mother until she lost consciousness. Their child witnessed this violence. Father then sent threatening messages to Mother, wherein he made threats to kill Mother or the child. Father was criminally charged for his conduct. While a domestic violence order of protection was granted to Mother against Father, the two continued to have contact. DSS filed a petition. A hearing for TPR was eventually held where the trial court terminated Father’s parental rights on the grounds, among others, that the child was neglected. Father appeals. 


  1. Issue:  Did the trial court err in finding that Father neglected the child? 


  1. Holding: No. 


  1. Rationale:  Father argued that the evidence did not support that the child was neglected and that there was a likelihood of future neglect if Father did not have his rights terminated. Neglect under the juvenile statutes is defined as a juvenile “whose parent, guardian, custodian, or caretaker . . . [d]oes not provide proper care, supervision, or discipline” or “[c]reates or allows to be created a living environment that is injurious to the juvenile’s welfare.” In cases where a parent and child have been separated for a long period of time, there must be a showing of past neglect and likelihood of future neglect. In this case, Father had committed domestic violence. Father had a history of mental health issues, including anger issues. Father had substance abuse issues, including alcohol abuse. Therapy for anger issues, mental health issues, and substance abuse issues did not help; Father continued to exhibit the same issues. Father minimized the substance abuse issue. These facts showed that Father had not established a safe home for the child. The facts support the ultimate conclusion that there would be a high likelihood of future neglect and that the child would remain at substantial risk of physical, mental, and/or emotional impairment if the child were left in Father’s care. No error.