Appeal from the District Court of Ward County, Northwest Judicial District, the Honorable Todd L. Cresap, Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: VandeWalle, Chief Justice.
N.D. Supreme CourtGuardianship of J.S.L.F., 2013 ND 31
This opinion is subject to petition for rehearing. [Go to Documents]
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Opinion of the Court by VandeWalle, Chief Justice.
[¶1] B.F. (father) appealed from a district court judgment appointing G.S., G.J., and K.C. as guardians over J.S.L.F. We reverse the appointment of G.S., G.J., and K.C. as guardians over J.S.L.F., and remand for entry of judgment placing J.S.L.F. in B.F.'s custody.
[¶2] J.S.L.F., a minor, was born in the summer of 2008 to B.F. and S.M.L. They lived in Grand Forks for the first few months of the child's life, and were the subject of several complaints received by Grand Forks County Social Services. Social services investigated and determined services were required at least twice due to neglect of the child and psychological maltreatment. In October of 2008, father, mother, and child moved to Glenburn, N.D., allegedly to avoid social services. While they were in Glenburn, there were at least three more reports from social services about their supervision of the child, the condition of the house they lived in, and the feeding of the child. The child also had serious health problems requiring hospitalization due to malnourishment. In March of 2009, the father moved back to Grand Forks, ending his romantic relationship with the mother. From that point until the institution of this action, the mother raised the child essentially by herself. The father saw the child approximately six times between March 2009 and December 2010, and paid child support.
[¶3] After the father left Glenburn, the mother moved to Job Corps hoping to learn a job skill and learn to better raise the child. While she lived there, there were repeated reports concerning her hygiene, her cleanliness, and her supervision of the child. On November 1, 2010, the mother left the child with two of the co-petitioners so she could move to Bismarck. On November 15, 2010, the mother signed a co-petition for appointment of a guardian in which she gave consent for G.S., G.J., and K.C. to be appointed guardians.
[¶4] On November 17, 2010, the mother arrived at G.S. and G.J.'s home with the police and took the child back. The next day, the district court entered an ex parte order giving G.S., G.J., and K.C. a temporary guardianship over the child. In the order, the court found an emergency existed because the mother was unable to care for the child, and found the mother's parental rights had been suspended by the circumstances. The father was not given notice before the guardianship was entered, and no hearing was held before the temporary guardianship.
[¶5] The temporary guardians made a motion to make the guardianship permanent, and B.F. was served with notice of the petition on December 27, 2010. A hearing was set for January 25, 2011. At B.F.'s request, the hearing was continued. A hearing on the petition for permanent guardianship was finally held on July 28, 2011. The district court ruled that both parents' rights had been suspended by the circumstances, and that it was in the best interests of the child to appoint G.S., G.J., and K.C. as the child's permanent guardians.
[¶6] On appeal, B.F. argues his parental rights were not suspended by circumstances. Section 30.1-27-04, N.D.C.C., provides "[t]he court may appoint a guardian for an unmarried minor if all parental rights of custody have been terminated or suspended by circumstances or prior court order." The statute does not define ...