FROM THE MADISON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 44JV-17-34]
HONORABLE STACEY ZIMMERMAN, JUDGE
Lanford, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant.
Goff, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.
Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad
litem for minor children.
J. GLADWIN, Judge
Madison County Circuit Court terminated Fred Northcross's
parental rights by order filed November 21, 2017. Northcross
appeals, arguing that the statutory grounds relied on by the
circuit court are not legally applicable to him; thus, he
claims that the termination-of-parental-rights (TPR) order
must fail. We agree with Northcross's argument and
reverse and remand to the circuit court.
Facts and Procedural History
Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) filed a petition
for emergency custody and dependency-neglect (DN) on June 6,
2017, alleging in the attached affidavit that Northcross had
been arrested for possession of methamphetamine and child
endangerment on June 1, 2017. Northcross was identified in
the petition as the putative father of two children, C.G.,
born February 28, 2014, and K.G., born May 11, 2016. The
children were with Northcross at the time of his arrest, but
he denied knowing them. Their mother, Tracy George, tested
positive for methamphetamine and amphetamines when she
arrived to retrieve them. She later admitted to daily
methamphetamine use. DHS took a 72-hour hold on the children,
and the circuit court filed an ex parte order for emergency
custody reflecting that DHS had been involved with the family
since 2009 and that the family had been provided with
counseling, drug screens, and drug rehabilitation in the
past. However, these services did not prevent removal, as
both parents continued to be involved with drugs as
probable-cause order states that Northcross is the putative
father and that probable cause existed for the children to
remain in DHS custody. George and Northcross were ordered to
comply with all requirements contained in the order.
Northcross was also ordered to resolve all criminal charges.
adjudication-and-disposition order, Northcross was again
listed as the putative father. The circuit court found by a
preponderance of the evidence that the children were DN due
to neglect and parental unfitness, noting the use and dealing
of illegal drugs by the parents and Northcross's denial
that he knew the children when he was arrested. The circuit
court found that the children had been subjected to
aggravated circumstances and that there was little likelihood
that services to the family would result in successful
reunification. The circuit court noted that the parents had
their rights previously terminated on another child due to
the same issues present in this case.
filed a TPR petition on July 31, 2017, alleging that
Northcross is the putative father and that paternity had not
been established. DHS listed the statutory grounds of
aggravated circumstances, Ark. Code Ann. §
9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(ix)(a)(3)(A) (Supp. 2017), and
prior involuntary termination of parental rights to a sibling
of the child, Ark. Code Ann. §
9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(ix)(a)(4). DHS alleged that the
children would be subjected to potential harm if returned to
the custody of George and Northcross.
no-reunification-services and permanency-planning order
reiterated that the children had been removed from the home
and placed in DHS custody because their parents were using
and selling illegal drugs. Further, Northcross was listed as
the putative father. The circuit court changed the goal of
the case to adoption and found that the parents were not
complying with the case plan. Specifically, the circuit court
found that Northcross, the putative father, had not complied
with any of the court orders or the case plan. The circuit
court found that he had made minimal progress toward
alleviating the cause of the children's removal from the
home and completing the court orders and requirements.
Northcross was notified of his right to have an attorney
represent him at the termination hearing, and he was allowed
visitation once a week for one hour. He was also ordered to
have a drug-and-alcohol assessment, follow the
recommendation, and attend "Celebrate Recovery at the
skating rink." Northcross was ordered to submit to DNA
testing and resolve the issue of paternity. Northcross was
given two weeks to complete the DNA testing and sign a
release of information if he were to be accepted into drug
court. If accepted into drug court, Northcross was to
successfully complete it and follow the rules.
circuit court specifically found that DHS proved by clear and
convincing evidence that the "mother and father"
had subjected the children to aggravated circumstances. Those
circumstances were that there was little likelihood that
services to the family would result in successful
reunification because "the parents" had previously
received services for the ...