North Carolina Termination of Parental Rights Law

The North Carolina termination statute establishes a two-stage termination proceeding. N.C. Gen. Stat. 7A-289.30, governs the adjudication stage and provides in part: (d) 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. 7A-289.32 which authorize the termination of parental rights of the respondent. (e) All findings of fact shall be based on clear, cogent, and convincing evidence. N.C. Gen. Stat. 7A-289.30 (1995). N.C. Gen. Stat. 7A-289.31 2 governs the disposition stage of a termination proceeding and provides in pertinent part that: (a) Should the court determine that any one or 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 child unless the court shall further determine that the best interests of the child require that the parental rights of such parent not be terminated.N.C. Gen. Stat. 7A-289.31(a)(1995). Our Supreme Court, in addressing these two sections, has stated: in the adjudication stage, the petitioner must prove clearly, cogently, and convincingly the existence of one or more of the grounds for termination listed in N.C. Gen. Stat. 7A-289.32. Once the petitioner has proven this ground by this standard, it has met its burden within the statutory scheme of N.C. Gen. Stat. 7A-289.30(d) and (e) and 7A-289.31(a). The petitioner having met his burden of proof at the adjudication stage, the court then moves on to the disposition stage, where the court's decision to terminate parental rights is discretionary. In re Montgomery, 311 N.C. 101, 110, 316 S.E.2d 246, 252 (1984). Sections 7A-289.30 and 7A-289.31 "provide that the court exercises its discretion in the dispositional stage only after the court has found that there is clear and convincing evidence of one of the statutory grounds for terminating parental rights during the adjudicatory stage." In re Carr, 116 N.C. App. 403, 407, 448 S.E.2d 299, 302 (1994). Although the termination statute does not specifically require the trial court to affirmatively state in its order terminating parental rights that the allegations of the petition were proved by clear and convincing evidence, without such an affirmative statement the appellate court is unable to determine if the proper standard of proof was utilized. Furthermore, we note the legislature has specifically required the standard of proof utilized by the trial court be affirmatively stated in the context of delinquent, undisciplined, abuse, neglect and dependent proceedings. N.C. Gen. Stat. 7A-637 (1995) Because termination proceedings and delinquent, undisciplined, abuse, neglect, and dependent proceedings are all contained in a single chapter of the General Statutes and relate to the same general subject matter, we construe these statutes together to determine legislative intent. See Carver v. Carver, 310 N.C. 669, 674, 314 S.E.2d 739, 742 (1984). Accordingly, we read section 7A-289.30(e) (now section 7B-1109(f)) to require the trial court to affirmatively state in its order the standard of proof utilized in the termination proceeding.