FROM THE SEBASTIAN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FORT SMITH DISTRICT
[NO. JV-2010-315] HONORABLE LEIGH T. ZUERKER, JUDGE
Michael Hamby, P.A., by: Michael Hamby, for appellant.
Robertson, Beasley & Shipley, PLLC, by: Robert Kelly, for
appellees Troy Anderson and Jenny Anderson.
A. Sharum, County Legal Operations, for appellee DHS.
Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad
litem for minor child.
RAYMOND R. ABRAMSON, Judge
Little appeals from the October 12, 2015 Sebastian County
Circuit Court order granting guardianship of her daughter
K.L. to Troy and Jennifer (Jenny) Anderson.On appeal, Little argues that substantial
evidence does not support the circuit court's findings,
 and that its decision is clearly
erroneous and is not in the best interest of the child, K.L.
For the following reasons, we affirm.
undisputed that K.L. has endured a tremendous amount in her
short life. On April 21, 2010, less than a week before K.L.
turned six years old, she was removed from her mother's
care and placed in foster care due to Little's drug use
and educational neglect. On December 19, 2011, K.L. was placed in
the custody of her paternal grandparents, Doug and Belinda
Little. In the same order, the court
awarded Wanda Little visitation to be supervised by the
custodial grandparents or by Jenny Anderson. From December
2011 through August 7, 2014, K.L. remained in the permanent
custody of her paternal grandparents until Arkansas
Department of Human Services (DHS) filed a petition for
emergency custody based on allegations of sexual abuse by
Doug Little. An ex parte order for emergency custody with DHS
was entered that day.
December 2, 2014, Troy and Jenny Anderson, as the relative
foster parents of K.L., petitioned the court for her
"permanent guardianship." Wanda Little answered on December 12, 2014
and contested that the petition should be denied. On December
31, 2014, the court suspended Wanda Little's visitation,
and a review hearing was held on March 10, 2015. Following
the hearing, the previous temporary order suspending
visitation was extended, and reunification with the mother
was the stated goal. K.L. remained in the custody of the
Andersons. On July 14, 2015, a permanency-planning hearing
was held, and Wanda Little's visitation with K.L.
continued to be suspended; K.L. remained in the custody of
the Andersons. On October 2, 2015, a hearing on the petition
for permanent guardianship was conducted, and the court
granted the permanent guardianship in an order filed on
October 12, 2015. This timely appeal follows.
juvenile proceedings, the standard of review on appeal is de
novo, although we do not reverse unless the trial court's
findings are clearly erroneous. Ingle v. Ark. Dep't
of Human Servs., 2014 Ark. 471, 449 S.W.3d 283. A
finding is clearly erroneous when, although there is evidence
to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is
left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has
been committed. Id. This court gives due deference
to the superior position of the trial court to view and judge
the credibility of the witnesses. Mosher v. Ark.
Dep't of Human Servs., 2015 Ark.App. 111, 455 S.W.3d
367. This deference to the trial court is even greater in
cases involving children, as a heavier burden is placed on
the trial judge to utilize to the fullest extent his or her
powers of perception in evaluating the witnesses, their
testimony, and the best interest of the children.
Callison v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2014
Ark.App. 592, 446 S.W.3d 210. Our appellate courts have made
clear that there is no other type of case where the superior
position, ability, and opportunity of the trial judge to
observe the parties carries a greater weight than one
involving the custody of a child. Id.
instant case, K.L. falls under the definition of an
incapacitated person because she is under the age of
majority. Ark. Code Ann. § 28-65-104(1) (Repl. 2012).
The purpose of a guardianship over an incapacitated person is
set forth in Arkansas Code Annotated section 28-65-105.
Guardianship is to be used "only as is necessary to
promote and protect the well-being of the person and his or
her property." Ark. Code Ann. § 28-65-105(1).
Arkansas Code Annotated section 28-65-210 provides what must
be proved to the trial court in order to appoint a guardian:
(1) the person is a minor or is otherwise incapacitated, (2)
a guardianship is desirable to protect the interests of the
incapacitated person, and (3) the person to be appointed
guardian is qualified and suitable to act as such.
is a statutory preference to be given to the parent, "if
qualified and, in the opinion of the court, suitable" to
be appointed guardian, as set out in Arkansas Code Annotated
section 28-65-204(a). This natural-parent preference does not
automatically attach to a child's natural parents; it is
within the circuit court's discretion to make a
determination as to whether a parent is "qualified"
and "suitable" under section 28-65-204(a).
Fletcher v. Scorza, 2010 Ark. 64, 359 S.W.3d 413.
when the incapacitated person is a minor, the key factor in
determining guardianship is the best interest of the child. A
determination of parental fitness is not necessary in
guardianship proceedings as between a natural parent and a
third party; the best interest of the child is paramount.
Id. To the extent that any prior cases suggested a
standard of fitness or unfitness in guardianship proceedings
involving the statutory natural-parent preference, those
cases were overruled in Fletcher. The natural-parent
preference is but one factor that the circuit court must
consider in determining who will be the most suitable
guardian for the child. Id. Any inclination to
appoint a parent or relative must be subservient to the
principle that the child's best interest is of paramount
these statutes and standards in mind, we now turn to the
evidence before the court and consider Little's arguments
challenging the trial court's decision. Throughout the
course of this case, dating back to the time K.L. was
initially removed from the custody of Little in 2010, Little
failed to achieve reunification with K.L. She took little
action to establish or reestablish her fitness to parent K.L.
After Doug Little's sexual abuse of K.L. over a two-year
period was discovered, the circuit court found K.L.
dependent-neglected for a second time. K.L. was ordered to
remain in DHS's custody, and reunification with Wanda was
made the case goal. While visits
occurred between K.L. and Wanda, they were characterized by
conflict, anger, animosity and resentment. K.L.'s
therapist testified that the visits and confrontation with
Wanda created anxiety and stress for K.L.
uncontroverted testimony of Jenny and Troy Anderson at trial
shows that they had been active in K.L.'s life since
birth-attending family functions and babysitting her for days
at a time. When K.L. began school, Wanda Little listed Jenny
Anderson as one of the persons authorized to pick up K.L.
from school. After K.L. was placed in DHS's custody the
first time, the Andersons continued to have holiday and
weekend visits with her. Their visits continued even after
K.L. was placed in Doug and Belinda Little's custody.
After K.L. was removed from her ...