APPEAL FROM THE LONOKE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 43PR-14-300] HONORABLE JASON ASHLEY PARKER, JUDGE
Worsham Law Firm, P.A., by: Richard E. Worsham, for appellant.
Brett D. Watson, Attorney at Law, PLLC, by: Brett D. Watson, for appellee.
LARRY D. VAUGHT, Judge
Appellant Susan Hill appeals the order entered by the Lonoke County Circuit Court denying her petition to adopt her grandson, M.C.T. (d/o/b March 5, 2008). She contends that the circuit court clearly erred in finding that the consent of M.C.T.'s mother, appellee Tabitha Marshall Powell, was required. We cannot address the argument on appeal because Hill did not also appeal the circuit court's finding that it was not in M.C.T.'s best interest to be adopted. Therefore, we affirm.
M.C.T.'s parents, Powell and Christopher Tribe, were never married. Tribe's paternity was established in an order entered by the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Mississippi, on January 23, 2012. In that order, the parties were awarded joint custody of M.C.T., and Tribe was ordered to pay monthly child support.
On September 18, 2012, Tribe filed a motion in the Circuit Court of White County, Arkansas, to register the Mississippi order and to modify child custody. On January 25, 2013, the White County Circuit Court entered an order finding that Arkansas was the home state of M.C.T. and had been since January 2012; that both Tribe and M.C.T. resided in White County, Arkansas; and that Powell resided in California. The order registered the Mississippi order and awarded custody of M.C.T. to Tribe with reasonable visitation to Powell; terminated Tribe's child-support obligation; and ordered Powell to pay child support as of March 1, 2012. The circuit court also found that Powell's boyfriend, "Tim, " was prohibited from having any contact with M.C.T.
On July 16, 2013, Hill, Tribe's mother and M.C.T.'s paternal grandmother, filed a petition in White County for the appointment of a permanent guardian of M.C.T. On September 18, 2013, the White County Circuit Court entered an order granting Hill's petition, finding that Tribe had consented to Hill's guardianship, Powell had been served with the petition, and she had failed to appear at the guardianship hearing.
Thereafter, on September 16, 2014, Hill filed a petition in the Lonoke County Circuit Court to adopt M.C.T. Hill alleged that she and M.C.T. were residents of Lonoke County, Tribe had consented to the adoption, and Powell's consent was not required pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated section 9-9-207(a)(2). Hill alternatively alleged that Powell's parental rights should be terminated pursuant to section 9-9-220(c)(3) because her consent was unreasonably withheld contrary to the best interest of M.C.T.
An adoption hearing before the Lonoke County Circuit Court was held February 15, 2015. Powell testified that she opposed the petition, that her consent to the adoption should be required, and that it was not in M.C.T.'s best interest to be adopted. Powell stated that she and Timothy, now her husband, had moved to California in April 2012 in search of better jobs. She conceded that she did not visit M.C.T. from March 2012 to March 2013 and that she was not denied visitation during that time; however, she said that she kept in monthly contact with him via the telephone, that she sent child support to Tribe after the entry of the January 2013 order directing her to do so, and that she sent M.C.T. clothes and gifts (birthday and Christmas) during that time. She added that she had recorded twenty-four phone conversations with M.C.T. that occurred between August 2013 and November 2014, and that she had visited M.C.T. in the summer of 2013, in March 2014, and in October 2014. Powell said that after Hill was appointed guardian, she (Powell) did not know to whom to pay child support, so she called and asked Hill about it. Hill told Powell that she was not obligated to pay Tribe and that Hill did not want child support. Finally, Powell testified that she filed a motion to terminate the guardianship in March 2014.
Hill testified that she had been the primary caregiver for M.C.T. since March 2012 and that Powell did not visit M.C.T. from March 2012 to March 2013. While Powell may have called once a month during that time, Hill testified that Powell never spoke to M.C.T. (Hill said that Powell called to complain to Hill about Tribe.) Hill stated that Powell asked to speak to M.C.T. one time between March 2012 and March 2013, and, on that occasion, M.C.T. ran from the phone. Hill stated that Powell did not send Christmas or birthday gifts to M.C.T. until March 2013. After March 2013, Hill testified that Powell had made up to two calls per month to M.C.T. and that he was happy to talk to his mother. Hill agreed that Powell had not abandoned M.C.T. because after March 2013, she called him, sent him gifts, and visited him.
Hill also confirmed that she had received a call from Powell offering to pay child support. Hill testified that she called the child-support division and reported back to Powell that once she (Hill) had been appointed guardian, the child-support obligation ceased. She added that she told Powell to not worry about child support and that she did not expect Powell to pay it. Hill added, however, that while Powell was under no legal obligation to pay Hill support, all parents are obligated to support their children.
Rebecca Eppinette, M.C.T.'s counselor, testified that she diagnosed him with disruptive-behavior disorder and mood-instability disorder. He initially presented with crying fits, anger outbursts, difficulty sleeping, and maintaining behaviors. He was socially isolated, struggled in school, and had general fear and anxiety. She testified that the root of M.C.T.'s issues was a sense of not being secure or safe. She said that M.C.T. felt safe around Hill but unsafe around Timothy Powell. Eppinette also stated that M.C.T. really missed his mother.
On April 1, 2015, the Lonoke County Circuit Court entered an order denying Hill's petition to adopt M.C.T. The court found that Powell did not lose her right to consent to the adoption under Arkansas Code Annotated section 9-9-207 because she had significant contacts with M.C.T. between the dates of March 2012 and March 2013 and she had paid support between those dates. The court also ...