FROM THE WHITE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 73PR-16-247]
HONORABLE TOM HUGHES, JUDGE
Law Offices of Watson and Watson, PLLC, by: Timothy F.
Watson, Jr., for appellant.
Knollmeyer Law Office, P.A., by: Michael Knollmeyer, for Tami
and Adam Nutt.
BRANDON J. HARRISON, JUDGE
Lucas appeals the circuit court's order granting Tami and
Adam Nutts' petition to adopt Lucas's biological
daughter, J.N. Lucas argues that the circuit court erred in
(1) finding that her consent to the adoption was not required
because she failed significantly and without justifiable
cause to communicate with J.N. and to provide child support
and (2) finding that it was in J.N.'s best interest to
grant the petition for adoption. We affirm.
August 2016, the Nutts petitioned to adopt four-year-old J.N.
The petition recited that the Nutts had been appointed
guardians of J.N. in November 2013 and that Lucas, the
child's mother, had significantly failed, without
justifiable cause, to visit or support the child since then;
thus, her consent to the adoption was not required. The
petition also stated that they were physically and
financially able to furnish suitable support and education
for J.N. and desired to establish the relationship of parents
response, Lucas asserted that she had not failed to visit her
child without cause and that the Nutts had willfully and
intentionally refused contact between her and J.N. Lucas
argued that her consent was required for an adoption and that
the adoption would not be in J.N.'s best interest.
circuit court convened a hearing on 7 August 2017. Sherry
Gentry, a licensed social worker, testified that she
performed a home study on the Nutt household and that the
house was suitable and in good shape. She also testified that
criminal-background checks and child-maltreatment checks on
the Nutts were both clear. Gentry recommended that the
adoption be approved.
Nutt testified that she and her husband, Adam, had been
married for twenty-one years and had lived in their present
home for seventeen years. She said that they have four sons,
ages five to twenty, who all live at home. She explained that
she first met J.N. in August 2013 while working as a
caseworker at a domestic-violence shelter. Lucas and J.N.,
who was one year old, were staying at the shelter because
Lucas was having trouble with her husband, Brad Wells. While
she was there, Lucas inquired about adoption agencies and
said that she was not ready to be a mom. Lucas told Nutt that
she (Lucas) had lived with her parents for the first three
months after J.N. was born, but after her parents kicked her
out, she lived in an abandoned building for five months. She
also stayed on friends' couches. When Lucas arrived at
the shelter, J.N. had no clothes that fit her and no shoes.
Tami said that Lucas left the shelter around September 2 and
asked Tami to take J.N. After speaking with her family, Tami
agreed, and both Lucas and J.N. began living with the Nutts.
Lucas moved out on October 20 and relocated to Springfield,
Missouri. Lucas lived in several different places over the
next few years, including at least three shelters in the
testified that after moving, Lucas first visited J.N.
approximately seven months later in May 2014. Lucas stayed
for one night and did not show much interest in J.N. Her next
visit was Easter weekend of 2015, approximately one year
later. Again, Lucas was there for one night and did not
interact with J.N. Lucas's third visit was in October
2015. Tami said that Lucas did not ask for visitation again
until 2017 and that she (Tami) had never denied Lucas
visitation. Tami also said that Lucas had never sent a
Christmas present, a birthday present, or called J.N. on her
birthday. Lucas had offered no financial support for J.N.
until early 2017. According to Tami, Lucas did not see J.N.
from October 2015 to January 2017; since then, she had seen
J.N. four times. Tami also said that there were a few times
that Lucas asked to visit but the family already had plans.
But she agreed that she had never denied Lucas visitation or
the opportunity to speak with J.N.
explained that when J.N. came into her family's care, she
did not laugh, did not play, was thin, and was not up to date
on her shots. Now, J.N. is outgoing, happy, and on a regular
routine for napping, eating, bathing, etc. According to Tami,
J.N. thinks that the Nutts are her parents and that their
sons are her brothers. J.N. and their five-year-old son are
especially close and have "grown up like twins."
Tami said that J.N. was her "little girl" and that
she did not know what she would do without her. Tami
explained that she is currently a preschool teacher and that
J.N. and her five-year-old son attend school next door.
cross-examination, Tami said that Lucas was nineteen years
old when she agreed to the guardianship. Tami also explained
that she wanted to help Lucas and that she had expected Lucas
to regain custody within a year. She agreed that she had told
Lucas that she would keep J.N. for as long as it took for
Lucas to get back on her feet. She also confirmed that she
had taken J.N. to Lebanon, Missouri, to meet Lucas in July
Nutt testified that he loves J.N. with all his heart and that
they enjoy many activities together such as fishing,
swimming, and riding the four-wheeler. He also said that he
is willing and able to financially support J.N. for the rest
of his life. He acknowledged that he had received a ticket
for public intoxication two years ago but said he did not
have a drinking problem and had no DWIs.
testified that she currently lives in Branson, Missouri, and
that she is employed at Big Cedar Lodge. She explained that
when the guardianship was created in October 2013, she did
not have a car or any source of income, and she thought the
guardianship was in J.N.'s best interest. It was her
understanding that the temporary guardianship would allow the
Nutts to take J.N. to the doctor and otherwise take care of
her while she (Lucas) got back on her feet. Lucas agreed that
Tami had not stayed in touch with her or made any effort to
make sure she and J.N. had time together. She acknowledged
that in the first half of 2014, she did not have a job and
was living in women's shelters in Springfield. She
recalled visiting J.N. "between May and July in
2014" but did not remember if she visited in October.
She said that she called the Nutts "once or twice"
in 2014 to speak to J.N. According to Lucas, she said
something to Tami about wanting J.N. back in November 2015,
and Tami said she (Lucas) was no longer welcome to stay with
them during visits. Lucas said she thought she visited in
January 2016 but was not sure. She denied ever going a full
year without seeing J.N. and agreed that she had the feeling
that Tami was making it difficult to see J.N. She also said
the Nutts had never requested financial support but that she
offered support sometime in 2016. Lucas stated that she
always brought J.N. little gifts and had bought J.N. a