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North Carolina Court of Appeals Reinstates Parolee’s Parental Rights, Says Parole Conditions Barred Him from Visiting Minor Daughter

by Matt Clarke

On September 5, 2023, the Court of Appeals of North Carolina reinstated a parolee’s parental rights that had been stripped for lack of contact with his minor daughter, after finding it was conditions of his parole which had prevented him from contacting her.

Crystal was born to the Respondent-­Father (RF) parolee and her mother, Petitioner (P), in 2010. The couple separated in December 2010 and executed a Consent Order in May 2011 granting them joint custody, though the mom had primary and physical custody and the dad was required to pay $400 monthly in child support. He exercised weekend visitation rights with Crystal and remained current on his child support payments until March of 2014, when he was convicted of two felonies related to sexual misconduct with a 14-­year-­old minor in Indiana.

During 38 months of his incarceration, the dad’s calls to his daughter were answered only once by her mother, who refused to let him speak with Crystal. He was then released on parole subject to restrictive conditions, including a prohibition on any contact or communication with minors without the prior consent of parole authorities. The conditions included specific prohibitions on touching, photographing, conversing with, or being in a vehicle or residence with a minor or communicating with a minor directly or through a third party, to include correspondence via letter, email, text message, internet communications or otherwise. Any inadvertent contact with a minor was to be reported to his parole officer.

“Following his release on 3 July 2017, [the father] completed and passed the Abel Assessment and a lie-­detector test, both of which were required by Indiana authorities before any modifications to his parole conditions would be considered,” the Court recalled. He sought to have his parole conditions modified to allow contact with Crystal in December 2017, and again in 2019 and 2021, after the child’s mother filed the petition to terminate his parental rights on June 2, 2021. Each time parole officials denied the request. Nonetheless, he remained current on his child support obligation.

The mother’s petition alleged that the father “willfully abandoned Crystal pursuant to N. C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-­1111(a)(7) (2021).” Despite being jailed and awaiting trial on charges of First-­Degree Sexual Offense, he opposed the petition and appeared in person at the termination hearing. A Guardian ad Litem appointed by the court to represent Crystal’s interests declined to testify because she was “torn between what [she believed] the law is and what [her] wishes are.…” Nonetheless, the trial court found the father had willfully abandoned Crystal and terminated his parental rights.

Aided by attorney Garron T. Michael, he appealed, challenging two of the trial court’s findings of fact. The Court of Appeals upheld the finding that he “failed to make reasonable efforts, even annually, to request approval from the Parole Board to allow contact with Crystal since his release from prison in July 2017” despite holding that it was an ultimate finding and looking beyond the determinative six-­month period preceding the filing of the petition.

The Court disregarded another finding that the father “failed to send any cards, letters, gifts or tokens of affection, nor did he send any birthday or Christmas gifts or otherwise acknowledge any of these events for” Crystal. Though factually accurate, the statement falsely implied that he could contact her without a real danger of criminal prosecution.

As for the remaining fact findings, the Court found them “insufficient to support the conclusion that [RF’s] abandonment of Crystal was willful,” and it reversed the termination order. However, it noted that new grounds for termination could be alleged on remand. See: In re C.J.B., 892 S.E.2d 216 (N.C. Ct. App. 2023).  

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Related legal case

In re C.J.B.