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Not Required to Prove Natural Parent Unfit to be Appointed as Guardian, Mossholder v. Coker 2017 Ark

This case involves a mother’s appeal from an order granting a paternal grandmother guardianship over her two children. On appeal, the mother argued that the trial court erred in awarding the grandmother guardianship because the grandmother failed to prove that she was an “unfit” parent. Mossholder v. Coker, 2017 Ark. App. 279, at 1. Under Arkansas law, a parent is unfit when he or she has been abusive or had no contact with or failed to provide for the child for an extended time period without any justifiable cause.

The Arkansas Court of Appeals held that the grandmother was not required to prove the mother was unfit prior to being appointed as guardian for the children. Id. at 11. While Arkansas Code Annotated section 28-65-204(a) does provide that the parent of an unmarried minor, if qualified and, in the opinion of the court, suitable, shall be preferred over all others for appointment as guardian, it does not mean that a natural parent will be appointed as guardian. Ark. Code Ann. § 28-65-204(a) (Repl. 2012).

It was previously established, in a case handed down by the Arkansas Supreme Court, that a natural parent does not have to be proved “unfit” before a guardianship may be entered in favor of someone other than the natural parent. Fletcher v. Scorza, 2010 Ark. 64, at 12, 359 S.W.3d 413, 420. In making its ruling, the Court held that the terms “fit” and “unfit” are not mentioned in the pertinent guardianship statute. Id. The Court further held that sole considerations in determining whether to enter a guardianship are whether the natural parent is qualified and suitable and what is in the best interests of the child. Id. at 12-13. Additionally, the Court overruled any prior case law that suggested a standard of fitness or unfitness in guardianship proceedings. Id.

Based on the rulings in Fletcher, the Arkansas Court of Appeals rejected the mother’s argument that the trial court erred in awarding the paternal grandmother guardianship over her two children.

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