As a general rule, a parent must consent to the adoption of his or her child. But rules have exceptions. The Arkansas Court of Appeals case recently upheld an order which said that a mother’s consent was NOT required in the adoption case filed by the stepmother of her four children. Under Arkansas law, a parent’s consent is not required if, for a period of at least one year, the parent fails to significantly and without justifiable cause to (i) communicate with the child OR (ii) fails to provide for the care and support of the child as required by law or judicial decree.
In this 2016 case, the parents of the four children were divorced. The mother tested positive for methamphetamine and amphetamines and the Court stated that she was “not to have any visitation at all” with the children. The judge said “when you decide that your children are more important to you than methamphetamine, then you can certainly come back and ask the Court to reverse this ruling and the Court will certainly look at it. But until that day happens, then there’s not going to be even visitation with your children.” The Court also did not order her to pay any child support. This order was entered on September 6, 2013.
A little more than a year passed before an adoption petition was filed by the children’s stepmother. In that case, the mother agreed that she had not communicated with or provided support to the children for a little over a year. She did not attend any football games or other school functions. She did not send any birthday cards. She did not send any Christmas cards or presents. She did not write any letters to the children or attempt to call them. She also did not file anything with the divorce court which sought to restore visitation with her children.
The issue that was decided by this case is what constitutes “justifiable cause.” The mother did not dispute that she failed to significantly to communicate with or provide support for her children. She argued that the Court’s order denying her visitation in effect ordered not to have any contact. The Court of Appeals disagreed. The order only prohibited visitation. There was no order that prohibited contact with the children’s father or which prohibited contact with the children.
The Court also said that the mother did not provide care and support for her children. The fact that there was not a Court order which required her to pay child support did not excuse her. A parent has a legal and moral duty to support his or her children, regardless of the existence of a support order.
If you have any questions about adoption in general, or about how this case might impact your situation, please give Chuck Buchan a call at (501) 320-0222 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.