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Rodgers v. Rodgers

Supreme Court of Arkansas

May 18, 2017

REANNA RODGERS APPELLANT
v.
DESTINY RODGERS APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM THE GARLAND COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. PR-2014-531-IV] HONORABLE MARCIA R. HEARNSBERGER, JUDGE

          Taylor & Taylor Law Firm, P.A., by: Andrew M. Taylor and Tasha C. Taylor, for appellant.

          Steve Westerfield, for appellee.

          RHONDA K. WOOD, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE

         Reanna Rodgers appeals from a final decree granting an adoption petition filed by her ex-husband's current spouse, Destiny Rodgers. The circuit court granted Destiny's request to adopt Reanna's four minor children, KR, JR, TR, and AR. On appeal, Reanna argues that the circuit court erred by finding that her consent was not necessary because she had failed, for a period of at least one year and without justifiable cause, to communicate with her children or to provide for their care and support as required by law or court order. We affirm the order of adoption.[1]

         Chris Rodgers and Reanna Rodgers were married in 2002 and divorced in 2011. The divorce decree gave them joint custody of their four children. In May 2013, Chris married Destiny Rodgers. On September 6, 2013, the circuit court, following a hearing, entered a temporary custody order that awarded Chris sole custody of the children because Reanna had tested positive for amphetamine and methamphetamine. The court explained that the test showed she had used within 72 hours. It further suspended Reanna's visitation with the children. At the hearing, the circuit court stated, "So when I say that she is not to have any visitation at all with these children, I mean she is not to have any visitation at all with these children, " and warned Chris that if he permitted any visitation between Reanna and the children that it would hold Chris in contempt of court. The circuit court also told Reanna,

[A]nd when you decide that your children are more important to you than methamphetamine, then you can certainly come back and you can ask the Court to reverse this ruling and the Court will certainly look at it. But until that happens then there's not going to be even visitation with your children.

         The circuit court's order stated "[t]hat the Plaintiff may petition this court for a review of the issue of child custody, or child visitation, at such time as the Plaintiff can pass a drug screen." In addition, the court's order specifically required her to submit to a hair-follicle test. The circuit court's order also stated that "no child support shall be ordered from the Plaintiff at this time."

         Reanna filed two separate drug-test results with the circuit court in October 2013 and April 2014 showing that she was negative for methamphetamine and other controlled substances. She did not file a petition for visitation following the clean drug screens. She later admitted that she relapsed after the October drug screen, but she claimed that she has been drug free since approximately December 2013.

         On September 19, 2014, Destiny, with Chris's consent, petitioned the circuit court to adopt the children. Destiny alleged that Reanna's consent was not required because Reanna, for a period of more than one year, had without justifiable cause failed to provide for the care and support of the children in a significant or meaningful fashion and because Reanna had failed to communicate with or maintain any significant contact with them. Reanna challenged the adoptions and filed a petition for visitation in the divorce action on October 19, 2014.

         At the hearing on the adoption petition, Reanna testified that she had not had visitation with her children since August 2013. She admitted that she continued to use drugs until December of 2013. In October 2014 she married Michael Eller with whom she has a five-month-old son. She conceded that she had not communicated with or provided support for the children between September 2013 and September 2014. She stated she attempted to pay child support in December 2014, after the petition for adoption had been filed. She believed that her failures were justified because the court had suspended her visitation and had not ordered her to pay any child support. She also stated that she did not file a negative hair follicle test until March 10, 2015, six months after the petition for adoption. After the hearing, the circuit court granted the petition for adoption, concluding that Reanna's consent was not required pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated section 9-9-207(a)(2) (Repl. 2015) because she failed significantly and without justifiable cause for at least one year to communicate with her children or to provide for their care and support. It stated,

The failure of the children's mother with regards to communication or support were demonstrated to be meaningful, intentional and without justifiable cause. The Respondent's actions during the year following her loss of child custody demonstrated her lack of regard for her children's well-being and instead demonstrated her desire to move on with other interests she obviously found to be more compelling.

         Arkansas Code Annotated section 9-9-207(a)(2) provides that consent to an adoption is not required of "a parent of a child in the custody of another, if the parent for a period of at least (1) year has failed significantly and without justifiable cause (i) to communicate with the child or (ii) to provide for the care and support of the child as required by law or judicial decree." As we have previously held, "failed significantly" does not mean "failed totally." Racine v. Nelson, 2011 Ark. 50, 378 S.W.3d 93. Rather, it means a failure that is meaningful or important. Id. "Without justifiable cause" denotes a failure that is voluntary, willful, arbitrary, and without adequate excuse. In re Adoption of K.F.H. & K.F.H., 311 Ark. 416, 423, 844 S.W.2d 343, 347 (1993).

         We review probate proceedings de novo and will not reverse the decision of the circuit court unless it is clearly erroneous. Martini v. Price, 2016 Ark. 472, 507 S.W.3d 486. A finding is clearly erroneous when, despite evidence to support it, we are left with the firm conviction that a mistake has been made. Id. When reviewing probate proceedings, we defer to the superior position of the circuit court to determine the credibility of the witnesses. Id. "We view the issue of justifiable cause as factual but one that largely is determined on the basis of the credibility of the witnesses. This court gives great weight to a ...


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