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July 26, 2018

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Stepparent Adoption: Court Order Suspending a Biological Mother's Visitation Held Not to be a "Justifiable Cause" for Her Failure to Communicate with Her Children, Rodgers v. Rodgers, 2017 Ark. 182

May 24, 2017

In Arkansas, a party petitioning a court to grant an adoption must first obtain the parents’ consent to adopt their child. There are certain situations, however, in which a parent’s consent is not required. Consent to an adoption is not required of a “parent of a child in the custody of another, if the parent for a period of at least (1) year has failed significantly and without justifiable cause (i) to communicate with the child or (ii) to provide for the care and support of the child as required by law or judicial decree.” Ark. Code Ann. § 9-9-207 (a).

 

In Rodgers v. Rodgers, a mother appealed a circuit court’s decision granting her ex-husband’s new spouse’s petition to adopt her four children in a stepparent adoption. 2017 Ark. 182. At the trial court level, the court found that the mother’s consent to allow the stepparent adoption was not required because she had failed to communicate with her children or to provide care and support to her children for a period of at least one year without justifiable cause. Id. at 1.

 

The mother and father originally divorced in 2011. Id. at 2. In September of 2013, a temporary hearing was held in which the lower court granted the father temporary custody of the children because the mother tested positive for methamphetamine. Id. The test showed that she had used within the last seventy-two hours. Id. More specifically, the court held, “[s]o when I say that she is not to have any visitation at all with these children, I mean she is not to have any visitation at all with these children.” Id. Furthermore, the lower court warned the father that if he allowed the mother to have any sort of visitation with the children, he would be held in contempt of court. Rodgers v. Rodgers, 2017 Ark. 182, at 2. The court also told the mother that once she could pass a drug test, she could petition the court to reinstate her visitation. Id.

 

In October 2013 and April 2014, the mother filed two clean drug screens with the court, but she failed to file a petition requesting that her visitation be reinstated. Id.

 

On September 19, 2014, the stepmother filed a petition to adopt the four children. Id. at 3. In her petition, the stepmother alleged that the biological mother’s consent was not required because she had failed, without justifiable cause, to communicate and provide care and support to the children for a period of more than one year. Id.

 

At a hearing on the matter, the biological mother testified that she had not had visitation with her children since August 2013. Rodgers v. Rodgers, 2017 Ark. 182, at 3. She also admitted that she had not provided any support to her children between September 2013 and September 2014. Id. Although the mother conceded to these faults, she said they were justified because the court had suspended her visitation and had not ordered her to pay child support. Id. The lower court ultimately granted the stepmother’s petition to adopt finding the biological mother’s actions “demonstrated her lack of regard for her children’s well-being and instead demonstrated her desire to move on with other interests she obviously found to be more compelling.” Id. at 4.

 

The Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s decision, ruling that despite the court’s order suspending her visitation, the mother could have communicated with her children in other ways (i.e. telephone calls; letters; birthday cards; or attending school, church, or sporting events). Id. at 5. However, the Court held that the mother showed no interested in her children despite the fact she lived about 150 feet from the children. Id. Additionally, the mother failed to petition the lower court to reinstate her visitation even though she passed drug tests and claimed to be drug free. Rodgers v. Rodgers, 2017 Ark. 182, at 5-6. As a result of this stepparent parent adoption, the mother’s parental rights were terminated.

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