FROM THE LONOKE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. NO.43PR-16-168.
HONORABLE ASHLEY PARKER, JUDGE.
M. BROWN, Judge. VIRDEN and HIXSON, JJ., agree.
WAYMOND M. BROWN, Judge
appeals from the circuit court's final decree of adoption
in which it granted the appellees' petition to adopt
appellant's son, G.N., born 8/21/08; and terminated
appellant's parental rights to G.N. On appeal, appellant
argues that the circuit court erred in finding that (1) there
was clear and convincing evidence that his consent to
adoption was not required pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated
section 9-9-207; and (2) it was in G.N.'s best interest
for his adoption to be granted over appellant's
objection. We affirm.
was arrested for attempted capital murder and kidnapping on
July 31, 2009. Mary Claressa Davis (Claressa) and her
husband, Jeffrey Craig Davis (Jeff) took in G.N. after
appellant's arrest. The Davises filed a petition for
appointment as guardians of G.N. on August 27, 2009.
Appellant filed a consent to the Davises' guardianship on
September 11, 2009. Appellant's consent to the
Davises' guardianship of G.N. was noted in the circuit
court's October 27, 2009 order granting the Davises'
petition for guardianship. Appellant pled guilty to the
alleged offenses and was sentenced to forty years'
imprisonment in the Arkansas Department of Correction (ADC)
in an order entered on June 22, 2010.
court entered an amended order appointing appellees as
successor guardians to G.N. on June 19, 2013. Appellees filed
their petition for adoption of G.N. on May 21, 2014.
Appellant filed his response objecting to appellees'
assertion that his consent was not required and denying his
consent. A hearing on appellees' adoption petition was
held on February 10, 2015. At the hearing, testimony was as
Leathers, assistant chief financial officer for the ADC,
testified that between December 2, 2010, and February 5,
2015, appellant had received deposits in his account of over
$13,000.00; had spent $4,658.48 of that amount on materials
to make crafts; and had spent $8,959.72 of that amount on
items from the canteen. He stated that appellant was
permitted to have checks issued from his account pursuant to
a request and approval process. He thought the process was
" fairly easy" and noted that appellant was able to
get checks approved for numerous leather companies to buy
craft materials. He knew of no prohibition on sending money
to family members.
Tapp, a licensed social worker hired by appellees to do a
home study, testified that she conducted adult maltreatment
checks, child maltreatment checks, Arkansas State Police
background checks, and driving record checks on appellees;
she found that neither was listed on any registry or had any
criminal history. Her
walkthrough of appellees' home revealed no concerns. She
observed a " great bond between the children" and a
" very close bond" between G.N. and appellees. She
found appellees' home to be " suitable" for
Lisa Hankins testified that she had been a babysitter for
G.N., with him spending " two days one week and three
the next week" with her for " approximately a
year" before he came to live with her and her husband in
December of 2012. When she was G.N.'s babysitter, he was
living with the Davises, who had guardianship of him after
appellant was incarcerated. G.N. had been with the Davises
since he was eleven months old. Due to the Davises'
financial difficulties, appellees ended up with G.N.
stated that G.N. had not had any visits or phone calls with
appellant since moving in with her in December 2012, though
she acknowledged that appellant had sent sixteen letters to
G.N. up through April 2014. She stated that G.N. had a "
meltdown immediately," " crying hysterically,"
during the one visit he had with his " paternal
great-grandmother."  Appellant had not provided any
financial support to G.N. Lisa and her husband have a "
close relationship" with G.N., being a " very close
family" in which her children and G.N. are " very
close, very protective" of one another.
stated that G.N. went through counseling once appellees
obtained guardianship over him due to his " struggles
with permanency and the ins and outs" of his living
arrangements and relationships. She opined that G.N. does not
understand permanency and thinks that when a person leaves,
" that's it; they're gone." He "
doesn't understand when someone leaves they will come
back."  Otherwise, G.N. has no medical
problems. It was her understanding that the attorney ad litem
and therapist were supposed to determine if contact between
G.N. and appellant was to be permitted. Appellees intended
not to allow communication between G.N. and appellant unless
the attorney ad litem or therapists instructed them to do so.
The attorney ad litem and therapist " never"
recommended contact between G.N. and appellant. She stated
that " if the adoption petition is not granted, nothing
is going to change in [G.N.'s] life at this moment."
James Hankins testified that " even before" G.N.
moved in with them, the appellees' relationship with him
was " very similar to what it is today" as G.N.
spent " some weekends" with appellees. Since
December 2012, appellees have provided all financial support
for G.N. James testified that if the adoption was not
granted, he thought " everything changes" for G.N.,
who would be " still stuck in limbo." He reiterated
G.N.'s need for permanency in light of G.N.'s belief
that when people leave, they " leave forever." He
stated that this--people leaving--was G.N.'s experience,
having been in three homes in six years. He agreed with
Lisa's testimony that he and Lisa had received no calls
from appellant; that appellant had sent approximately sixteen
letters since December 2012; that appellant had provided no
financial support to G.N.; and that the attorney ad litem was
whether contact between G.N. and appellant was permissible.
testified that he had eight in-person visits with G.N. from
April 10, 2011, to November 20, 2012, due to the Davises
bringing G.N. to the prison. He began writing letters monthly
in 2013; all the letters were sent certified mail. He stated
that he had to forward a phone visitation form to persons he
wished to call, to be completed and returned by the potential
visitor so they could be added to the his call list; he never
stated whether he sent the form to appellees. He admitted
that over $13,000.00 had come into his account from his
mother and stated that he was able to write checks, having
been getting them for " about a year and a half."
He stated that he used $4,658.00 to purchase leather and
stain to do leatherwork, which he does as a hobby and sells
for " maybe five, ten, $20.00[.]" All the money in
his account came from his mom as he was not able to earn
money through the work-release program because he was not
eligible for the program due to the crimes for which he was
convicted. He received six dollars per year from the state.
He would pay support to G.N. if the adoption was denied.
stated that Claressa told him she could no longer care for
G.N. because it was a " financial struggle for
her." He admitted contemplating putting G.N. in a foster
home and admitted that he did not send her any money, though
he averred that it was because he did not have any money at
that time. He stated that he was not aware that he could
write checks for child support, thinking he had to have a
court order " until here recently." He admitted
that he " was getting money deposited to his inmate bank
account that [he] could have used for care and support of
[G.N.,]" though he did not. He denied that the court
told him that there was nothing that prevented him from
financially supporting G.N. that he remembered, though he
remembered receiving the order in which the same was
testified that he was sentenced to forty years'
imprisonment, but that he was eligible for parole January 9,
2020. He admitted that there was " a chance" that
he could remain incarcerated until after G.N. reached
majority. He thought it was " good that [G.N. had] a
family that he's bonded with that can provide for him
emotionally, financially, and give him stability" and
stated that he wanted G.N. to be happy, but he wanted to be
able to see his son. He had " considered that it might
be traumatic" to G.N. for him to " just reappear
someday and try to get back in his life after he's formed
a relationship and a bond with the new family." He
testified that he did not know appellees had G.N. until the
guardianship hearing on the motion to substitute guardians;
he did not agree to the substitution. He remembered it being
said in court that G.N. could not come and visit him and he
" figured that that meant that they was [sic] gonna
[sic] have to let the therapist and [the attorney ad litem]
decide." Though he " could have obtained this
information[,]" appellant admitted that he did not
contact the attorney ad litem. Finally, he testified that he
is a " better person now[,]" having participated in
and completed a list of " self-improvement"
activities, including anger management, life skills, thinking
errors, and substance abuse education.
testified that appellees obtained G.N. due to the
Davises' financial difficulties that included them losing
their home in December 2012 to foreclosure. G.N. would spend
" one or two days a week" with appellees prior to
the foreclosure, and James had always said to the Davises
" [y]ou need to just let us take care
of [G.N.,]" so they gave G.N. to appellees. Appellant
" was aware of [the Davises'] financial
situation" as she had told him that the Davises'
home was in foreclosure. Appellant, knowing nothing about the
appellees, suggested putting G.N. in a group home "
until [appellant] could get out." Claressa stated that
appellant never provided her support because " [h]e
couldn't" because " [h]e was
incarcerated." She denied that it would surprise her
that he had significant deposits of over $13,000.00 in his
account between 2010 and 2015.
stated that after appellees obtained guardianship over G.N.,
they would not answer or return her phone calls and the time
she was able to see G.N. became " very limited."
She said Lisa told her that G.N.'s therapist advised the
appellees not to allow G.N. to see the Davises. She admitted
that " adoption was discussed prior to the
guardianship." She thought it would be " okay"
for appellees to adopt G.N., so long as she, her husband, and
G.N.'s biological family " would all still be a part
of [G.N.'s] life." Though she had not observed the
relationship in a while, she testified that she had "
observed a close bond and relationship" between
appellees and G.N. She had never requested that G.N. be
returned to her care.
mother, Ruth Newkirk, testified that though she had a good
relationship with G.N. prior to the appellees'
guardianship, and tried to maintain it, she was not able to
maintain the relationship after appellees obtained
guardianship over G.N. She was not able to establish contact
with G.N. Though she had previously sought
guardianship, she admitted that she was not able to
care for G.N. in 2009 or 2012.
circuit court entered its final decree of adoption on April
16, 2015, granting appellees' petition to adopt G.N. and
terminating appellant's parental rights. It found that
appellant's consent to adoption was not necessary
pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated section 9-9-207(a)(2)
because he had " willfully failed to pay child support
for the minor child in excess of one year[.]" ...