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Ballard v. Howard

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Divisions II, III, IV

October 3, 2018

JESSE AUSTIN DALE BALLARD AND HAILEE DANIELLE BALLARD APPELLANTS
v.
CURTIS DANIEL HOWARD APPELLEE

          APPEAL FROM THE WHITE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 73PR-17-149] HONORABLE CRAIG HANNAH, JUDGE.

          Debra J. Reece, for appellant.

          One brief only.

          MIKE MURPHY, JUDGE.

         Appellant Austin Ballard filed a petition to adopt his wife's, Hailee Ballard's, five-year-old son, BLH. The child's biological father, Curtis Howard, contested the adoption. After a hearing, the lower court denied the petition. It found that Howard had failed to support his child for a twelve-month period despite having some income but nevertheless denied the adoption petition, finding that to do so would not be in the child's best interest. On appeal, the Ballards argue that the court erred in finding that the adoption was not in BLH's best interest. We affirm.

         I. Facts

         The court heard the following testimony. Curtis Howard testified that he was sixteen when BLH was born out of wedlock, and that he was currently in jail for robbery and aggravated assault. He anticipated his release in 2021. Curtis testified that he loves his son and wants to be a part of BLH's life when he gets out of jail.

         Hailee Ballard testified next. She testified that she was seventeen when BLH was born. Shortly after BLH was born, Hailee and Curtis lived first with her mother, then with Curtis's mother (Donna Posey), and then back with her mother before they quit dating and Hailee got her own place.

         According to Hailee, Curtis was "a deadbeat" who didn't have a job, drew Social Security, and used drugs. She said that during the first year of BLH's life, her mother and Curtis's mother helped support them. She testified that after she and Curtis broke up, he did not contribute to raising BLH. She testified that her husband, Austin, loves BLH and has raised him as his own. In response to the court's questioning, Hailee further discussed that BLH had seen Curtis's mother frequently, "as well as that side of the family," and that Donna has a good relationship with BLH. She testified that BLH sees Curtis's family and has a good relationship with the Howard family, and if that relationship were to stop, it would be detrimental to the child. She said she doesn't have any obligation to let Curtis's family see the child but that she does "out of the benefit of my child having all the family he can to love him." She said that severing ties between BLH and the Howard side of the family "would just crush him."

         The court heard testimony from Austin Ballard. Austin said that he has been a part of BLH's life since BLH was born. He testified that Curtis used to do a lot of drugs and never helped Hailee with BLH. Austin talked about how, when BLH was a baby, he would get up with him in the middle of the night to feed him and change his diapers. He taught BLH to ride a bike. He is very willing to establish a parent-child relationship with BLH.

         Hailee's maternal grandmother, Shirley Willard, testified that Hailee and Austin live with her. Shirley described Hailee and Austin as very good parents. She stated that Austin treats BLH as if he is his own son and that they have a father-son bond. Shirley stated that Hailee and Donna are friends and that there was no indication that Hailee would not allow Donna continued visitation with BLH if the adoption were granted.

         Donna Posey, Curtis's mother, testified that she and BLH have a special relationship and that Hailee and Curtis lived with her for about six months after BLH was born. When BLH was two, Donna kept him every other weekend. She loves BLH and he is closely bonded with her and other members of her side of the family.

         The court ruled from the bench at the conclusion of the hearing:

In order for an adoption to be granted, you need a consent of the biological parent, or ties having been severed, or a waiver of consent. And it would be the finding in the ...

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