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In re Adoption of Z.K.

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

November 7, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF THE ADOPTION OF Z.K., A MINOR JUSTIN CHATLEY APPELLANT
v.
NATHAN KEY AND BRANDY KEY APPELLEES

          APPEAL FROM THE BENTON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 04PR-16-530] HONORABLE XOLLIE DUNCAN, JUDGE.

          Lisa-Marie Norris, for appellant.

          Tina Adcock-Thomas, for appellees.

          RITA W. GRUBER, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Justin Chatley appeals from the Benton County Circuit Court's order denying his request to set aside an adoption. The court denied Justin's petition based on its determination that he had failed to provide adequate information to establish that he had standing. On appeal, he contends that there was insufficient evidence to support the denial of his petition and that the adoption violates his right to due process. We hold the circuit court did not err in concluding that Justin lacked standing to challenge the adoption, and we affirm its order denying his petition.

         The child adopted in this case, ZK, was born on July 6, 2015, to Dawn and Allen Williams. The Williamses were married when ZK was conceived. On June 26, 2016, almost a year after ZK's birth, Dawn and Allen each signed a relinquishment, termination, and consent to adoption. In Allen's relinquishment, he specifically stated that he and Dawn were married "prior to and during the time of conception" of ZK and that he was ZK's biological father. On June 29, 2016, Brandy and Nathan Key filed a petition to adopt ZK. On August 9, 2016, after a favorable home study had been conducted on the Keys' home, the circuit court entered an order granting the adoption.

         Nine months later, on April 3, 2017, Justin filed a petition to vacate the final decree of adoption and a supporting brief claiming that he was ZK's biological father and had maintained a significant custodial, personal, and financial relationship with the child when Dawn and ZK lived with Justin from August 2015 through mid-May 2016. The circuit court did not rule on the petition for four months, allowing Justin a reasonable time to establish standing to proceed in the matter.

         On July 24, 2017, Justin filed an additional brief in support of his petition and attached the following documents. He filed an affidavit stating that he and Dawn had an on-and-off relationship from 2014 through sometime in 2016; Dawn told him in December 2014 that she was pregnant with his child; they "broke up" in February 2015; in August 2015, several weeks after ZK's birth, Dawn moved in with Justin and he provided financial support; Justin performed a "home paternity test" on ZK in March 2016; at some point thereafter, he claims that he unsuccessfully attempted to register with the Arkansas Putative Father Registry; and in June 2016, Justin hired an Oklahoma lawyer for "visitation and custody." He attached the results from the home paternity test purporting to indicate that he was the father of ZK. He attached a "Petition for Judicial Order Determining Paternity, Custody and Visitation" that had been filed in Oklahoma on September 20, 2016. He also attached an affidavit from his Oklahoma attorney, stating that Justin had diligently attempted to provide service information for Dawn but was unable to discover Dawn's whereabouts in Texas until August 2016, at which point Dawn was served with Justin's Oklahoma petition for paternity. The attorney also stated that Justin did not discover that ZK had been adopted until Dawn filed an answer in the paternity lawsuit so stating. Finally, Justin filed the affidavit of his parents, confirming that Justin and Dawn had a relationship and that Dawn and ZK had lived with Justin for a period of nine months. Justin did not produce any evidence that he had registered with the Arkansas Putative Father Registry or any other putative-father registry, filed a petition for paternity in any Arkansas court, or obtained an order from any court establishing his rights as the father of ZK.

         On July 31, 2017, the circuit court denied Justin's petition to vacate, finding that he had failed to establish standing to proceed, providing specifically:

1.The Final Decree of Adoption was filed in this matter on August [9], 2016.
2.The Court allowed a period of time for the Petitioner to provide the Court with adequate proof of his good faith efforts to register as a putative father and to provide adequate information to establish standing to proceed.
3. The Court has reviewed all information provided by the Petitioner and has determined that it is not adequate to establish standing nor is it adequate for the Court to find a reasonable basis to allow Petitioner to proceed.

         We are reviewing the circuit court's finding that Justin did not have standing to pursue his petition. Only a person who has a personal stake in the outcome of a controversy has standing. Pulaski Cty. v. Ark. Democrat-Gazette, Inc., 371 Ark. 217, 220, 264 S.W.3d 465, 467 (2007). The question of standing is a matter of law for this court to decide, and the appellate courts review questions of law de novo. Hinton v. Bethany Christian Servs., 2015 Ark.App. 301, at 3, 462 S.W.3d 361, 362. In making a determination regarding standing, we must interpret several statutes. We review issues of statutory construction de novo, as it is for this court to decide what a statute means. DaimlerChrysler Corp. v. Smelser, 375 Ark. 216, 289 S.W.3d 466 (2008). In this regard, we are not bound by the circuit court's decision; however, in the absence of a showing that the circuit court erred, its interpretation will be accepted as correct on appeal. Id. With these standards in mind, we turn to the arguments presented on appeal.

         I. Statutory Law

         We find it helpful to first set forth the relevant Arkansas statutes. Arkansas Code Annotated section 9-9-206 provides in pertinent part as follows:

(a) Unless consent is not required under ยง 9-9-207, a petition to adopt a minor may be granted only if written consent to a ...

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