People in Interest of S.R.N.J. – S, 2020 COA 12

In this decision, the Court of Appeals reverses a juvenile court order terminating the parent-child legal relationship. The GAL filed the termination motion in the juvenile court, and the motion was opposed by parents and the department. After an extensive hearing, the juvenile court entered a lengthy oral order terminating the parent-child legal relationship and finding the parents “semi-fit.” A subsequent written order simply stated the statutory findings, including that the parents were unfit, and incorporated the court’s oral order by reference.

The Court of Appeals acknowledges that generally a written order controls over a conflicting oral order but does not apply that principle to its decision because the written order did not contain any specific factual findings and the written order incorporated the oral order by reference. Given the unfitness findings in the written order, the Court of Appeals does consider whether clear and convincing evidence supports those findings but does not find support in the record for the findings related to father’s unfitness. Additionally, the Court of Appeals does not find support in the record for many of the factual findings related to the mother’s unfitness and finds that the findings supported by the record do not support the juvenile court’s conclusion of unfitness. The Court of Appeals therefore reverses and remands the proceeding.