People in Interest of N.G.G., 2020 COA 6

This case concerns grandparent visitation and the relocation provisions of an allocation of parental responsibilities (“APR”) order issued out of a D&N proceeding. The D&N proceeding initiated from concerns that the grandmother, the children’s primary legal custodian at that time, provided inadequate care. Both parents entered no fault admissions, and the children were adjudicated dependent and neglected as to the grandmother after a jury trial. The court adopted treatment plans for both parents and the grandmother, and the department eventually filed a motion for APR to the mother. After determining that the mother successfully complied with the treatment plan, the court issued an APR order allocating primary parenting time and sole decision-making to the mother. Despite the mother’s objection and the GAL’s and department’s support for the mother’s discretion in allowing grandparent visitation, the court ordered the grandparent visitation. The court did not apply Troxel’s presumption of fitness in entering this order. Additionally, the APR order contained a provision outlining requirements for any out-of-state relocation by the mother despite the mother’s testimony that she did not have any plans to move with the children.

In this decision, the Court of Appeals holds that both the grandparent visitation and relocation provisions were erroneous. Because the juvenile court specifically found that the mother successfully complied with her treatment plan and that she was safely able to care for her children, it should have applied Troxel’s presumption of fitness in determining whether to order grandparent visitation over the mother’s objection. As to the relocation provisions, the Court of Appeals holds that the trial court’s order did not afford the father a meaningful opportunity to be heard, and contrary to caselaw and applicable statutes, was not based on circumstances existing at the time of the children’s proposed relocation. The Court of Appeals reverses the judgment and remands the case to the juvenile court.

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