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In re Adoption of JS

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

December 5, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF THE ADOPTION OF JS AND DS, MINOR CHILDREN
v.
TIM STEELE AND CAROL STEELE APPELLEES JONATHAN ERIC SWAITE APPELLANT

          APPEAL FROM THE GARLAND COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [N O . 2 6 PR - 17 - 2 8 2 ] HONORABLE LYNN WILLIAMS, JUDGE

          The Law Offices of J. Brent Standridge, P.A., by: J. Brent Standridge, for appellant.

          Howard Law Firm, PLLC, by: Lori D. Howard, for appellees.

          LARRYD. VAUGHT, JUDGE.

         Jonathan Eric Swaite appeals from the final decree entered by the Garland County Circuit Court granting the petition of Tim and Carol Steele to adopt Jonathan's two minor children. On appeal, Jonathan argues that the circuit court clearly erred in finding that his consent was unnecessary for the adoption and that adoption was in the best interest of the children. We affirm.

         Jonathan has two children: JS (born April 15, 2014) and DS (born March 6, 2015). Their mother is Kala Dawn Steele. Kala's father is Tim Steele, and Carol Steele is Kala's stepmother. In June 2015, Tim and Carol were granted guardianship of JS and DS due to Jonathan's and Kala's drug problems.

         More than two years later, on August 14, 2017, Tim and Carol filed a petition to adopt JS and DS. The Steeles alleged that consent to adoption was not required from either Jonathan or Kala because they had failed to support or communicate with JS and DS for at least one year. The Steeles also alleged that adoption was in the children's best interest.

         A hearing on the adoption petition was held on November 14, 2017. The Steeles testified that since June 2015, they had been the guardians of JS and DS and that neither Jonathan nor Kala had provided support for the children despite each having been ordered by the court to pay monthly child support of $65. The Steeles testified that neither parent had sent clothing, cards, gifts, or diapers since June 2015. The Steeles stated that Jonathan and Kala had used food stamps a few times to purchase groceries for their children around March 2016.

         Carol testified that in 2015, Jonathan and Kala were awarded visitation twice a week and that they inconsistently exercised visitation until April 2016. Carol stated that since June 2016, Jonathan had not seen the children and had not called them. Tim stated that his and Carol's phone numbers had not changed in twenty years. Tim also testified that while he and Carol had moved in February 2017, the postal service forwarded their mail.

         Carol further testified that she, Tim, and the boys live in a 3000-square-foot house that has three bedrooms, two and a half baths, and a pool in the backyard. She stated that the children are on Tim's medical insurance, that she takes them to the doctor, and that their immunizations are current. Lastly, Carol testified that she and Tim desired to adopt the children and that they fully understood the responsibility of adopting them.

         Jonathan testified that around 2015 he and Kala had no place to live, had no jobs, and were addicted to drugs, so they asked the Steeles to care for JS and DS. Jonathan stated that he had been incarcerated for a drug-related offense for a few months, released for a couple of weeks, and reincarcerated for a year and a half. He was incarcerated at the time of the hearing. He stated that he expected to be released in eighteen days; he had a job in construction and a truck waiting for him upon his release; he planned to live with his mother; and drugs were no longer a problem for him.

         Jonathan conceded that he had not paid child support as ordered but that he was willing to pay support and child-support arrearages. He stated that he was unable to exercise visitation with JS and DS because the Steeles would not permit it. He said that he was unable to have phone visitation with the children because he broke his phone and he lost the Steeles' numbers. He said that he never tried to send letters or cards to his children because he was told that the Steeles had moved, and he did not have their new address. Finally, Jonathan testified that he did not consent to the adoption and that he wanted to continue to be the children's father.

         Kala testified that she and Jonathan had drug problems. She stated that she turned herself in to the authorities on June 1, 2017, and she was still in custody. She conceded that she had not paid support to the Steeles as ordered. She further stated that she had talked to the Steeles approximately three weeks before the hearing and that their phone numbers had not changed.

         At the conclusion of the hearing, the circuit court orally granted the adoption. On November 20, 2017, the circuit court ...


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