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Nichols v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

February 7, 2018

JONATHAN NICHOLS AND WHITNEY DUBAR (NOW NICHOLS) APPELLANTS
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES AND MINOR CHILDREN APPELLEES

         APPEAL FROM THE SEBASTIAN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FORT SMITH DISTRICT [NO. 66JJV-15-440] HONORABLE LEIGH ZUERKER, JUDGE

          Dusti Standridge, for appellant Jonathan Nichols.

          Tina Bowers Lee, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant Whitney Dubar Nichols.

          Mary Goff, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

          Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad litem for minor children.

          RAYMOND R. ABRAMSON, JUDGE

         Jonathan Nichols and Whitney Dubar (now Nichols) separately appeal the Sebastian County Circuit Court order terminating their parental rights to their son, B.N. Whitney also appeals the termination of her parental rights to her children, A.D., H.P., and G.D.[1] On appeal, they both argue that the circuit court erred in finding that (1) it was in the children's best interest to terminate their parental rights and (2) a statutory ground supported termination. We affirm.

         On September 3, 2015, the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) filed a petition for emergency custody of A.D., H.P., and G.D. The petition listed Whitney as the mother. Jonathan is not the father of the children but was Whitney's live-in boyfriend when the petition was filed.

         In the affidavit attached to the petition, DHS alleged that it had opened a protective- services case on August 27, 2015, as a result of Jonathan's spanking H.P., which left a large bruise on the back of her leg. The affidavit further stated that DHS had contacted Whitney and Jonathan on August 31, 2015, at the hotel where the family was living, after receiving a report that Whitney had inadequate food for the children. Whitney admitted posting on Facebook that she had no formula for G.D. She submitted to a drug screen and testified positive for THC. She also learned that she was pregnant with B.N. She further admitted that she had medications for her anger but had not been seeking treatment. A chaplain arrived with formula and food donations, so DHS left the children in Whitney's custody. DHS returned to the hotel on September 1, 2015, to check on the welfare of the children, but Whitney and Jonathan had moved out of the hotel around midnight the night before and had left all their belongings. DHS attempted to contact Jonathan, but he disconnected the call. The circuit court entered an ex parte order of emergency custody on the same day the petition was filed.

         On September 8, 2015, the court entered a probable-cause order, and on October 13, 2015, the court adjudicated the children dependent-neglected based on abuse, neglect, and parental unfitness. In the adjudication order, the court found that DHS had made reasonable efforts to prevent removal of the children.

         On March 1, 2016, the court held a review hearing[2] and noted that Whitney and Jonathan had married. The court found that Whitney was complying with the case plan and court orders. Specifically, she was attending parenting classes and had completed a psychological evaluation and a drug-and-alcohol assessment. The court ordered Whitney to notify DHS when she went into labor and noted that an emergency hold of the child would be taken. The court further noted that Jonathan was attending parenting classes and had completed a psychological evaluation. The court ordered him to complete domestic-violence classes. The court further found that DHS had made reasonable efforts to provide family services.

         On March 13, 2016, Whitney gave birth to B.N., and on March 15, 2016, DHS filed a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect of the child. The petition listed Whitney as the mother and Jonathan as the legal father. In the affidavit attached to the petition, DHS alleged that the hold resulted from the dependency-neglect case involving Whitney's other children. On the same day the petition was filed, the circuit court entered an ex parte order for emergency custody. On April 1, 2016, the court entered a probable-cause order.

         On April 19, 2016, the court adjudicated B.N. dependent-neglected based on the parties' stipulations. In the adjudication order, the court found that Whitney and Jonathan had been complying with the case plan and court orders. Specifically, Whitney had completed parenting classes and was participating in the twelve-week program recommended in her drug-and-alcohol assessment. The court also noted that DHS had made new referrals for domestic-abuse counseling and parenting-without-violence and parenting-forever classes. As to Jonathan, the court found that he was working to complete domestic-violence, parenting-without-violence, and parenting-forever classes. The court found that DHS had made reasonable efforts to provide family services.

         On August 4, 2016, the court held a permanency-planning hearing. The court found that Jonathan and Whitney had housing and income but no transportation. The court noted that Whitney had completed the recommended drug treatment from her assessment. The court ordered both Jonathan and Whitney to complete parenting-without-violence ...


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