Arkansas

ADOPTION

UNMARRIED PARENTS

Arkansas Dep’t of Human Servs. v. Cole, 380 S.W.3d 429 (Ark. 2011).The Supreme Court of Arkansas upheld a lower court ruling that Arkansas’ Act 1 is unconstitutional. The court found that by banning people who cohabit with sexual partners from fostering or adopting a child, Act 1 penalizes these couples and infringes on their right to privacy. Further, it denies these couples the same consideration as married couples when determining suitable placements and best interests of children. FULL CASE SUMMARY

CHILD ABUSE

EVIDENCE

Breeden v. State, 427 S.W.3d 5 (Ark. 2013). Circuit court did not abuse discretion in admitting photos of victim of sexual abuse introduced during her mother’s testimony. Photographs depicting her at different ages were relevant to support element of criminal charge that father had raped his daughter during those time periods. As to whether the photographs were unduly prejudicial, defendant did not raise that objection for appeal.

DEPENDENCY

AGGRAVATED CIRCUMSTANCES

Potterton v. Ark. Dep’t Human Servs., 2017 Ark. App. 454 (Ark. Ct. App.). Mother claimed trial court’s finding she subjected child to aggravated circumstances violated her due process rights because child welfare agency did not file pleadings alleging aggravated circumstances and she therefore did not know of need to defend against such finding. Appellate court ruled mother failed to preserve issue for review by failing to raise or develop it before trial court or object to court’s clear finding of aggravated circumstances at adjudication hearing.

REVIEW HEARINGS

Ponder v. Ark. Dep’t Human Servs., 2016 WL 354301 (Ark. Ct. App.). Following review hearing, trial court granted permanent custody of mother’s three children to two separate sets of relatives and closed case. State statute specifies what must be addressed at each review hearing. Appellate review of trial court record confirmed there were no findings based on evidence presented at review hearing regarding best interest of children, thus granting custody without such evidence was reversible error.

TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS

ADOPTABILITY

Vega v. Arkansas Dep’t of Human Servs., 2017 WL 710410 (Ark. Ct. App. 2017). Trial court’s finding that child was adoptable, as factor to support terminating mother’s parental rights based on child’s best interests, was supported by the evidence. Caseworker testified that child had good social interactions with other people and children, despite her issues, and had made progress in treatment. She no longer showed sexualized behaviors or physical or verbal aggression, was able to process thoughts and feelings, and was loving and happy.

AGGRAVATED CIRCUMSTANCES

Helvey v. Ark. Dep’t Human Servs., 2016 WL 5122550 (Ark. Ct. App.). Termination of father’s parental rights based on potential harm if daughter was returned to his custody was warranted and in daughter’s best interest. Father had history of drug abuse and drug-related crimes, although he sought to participate in drug court program, father had another year of drug treatment. Living in continued uncertainty was potentially harmful to daughter.

Murphey v. Ark. Dep’t Human Servs., 2016 WL 5135595 (Ark. Ct. App.). Evidence was sufficient to show parents subjected children to aggravated circumstances as ground for termination of their parental rights and there was little likelihood services would result in successful reunification. Children were removed from parents’ custody at least three times due to conditions at house and were returned twice. When they were later removed again, court found father had only recently recognized need for more suitable place to live.

BEST INTERESTS

Cranford v. Arkansas Dep’t of Human Servs., 378 S.W.3d 851(Ark. App. Ct. 2011). Giving parents more time to pursue reunification with child was in child’s best interests and did not interfere with providing child permanency since child was in custody of grandparents who would continue caring for him and would be willing to adopt him in future if that became necessary; termination would not necessarily provide greater stability for child since grandparents maintained continuing contact with parents.

Humbert v. Ark. Dep’t Human Servs., 2015 WL 1866072 (Ark. Ct. App.).Evidence showed it was in best interests of six- and seven-year-old sons to terminate father’s parental rights. Mother’s rights were terminated simultaneously but she did not appeal. Father lost his job after testing positive for methamphetamine and missed multiple drug screens. Mother disclosed she used drugs with father, and he exposed them to her drug use when he had custody, in violation of court order.

DISABILITIES

Anderson v. Ark. Dep’t Human Servs., 2016 WL 5122567 (Ark. Ct. App.). Father failed to preserve for appeal argument that child welfare agency should have modified case plan to accommodate his disability before terminating parental rights. Argument was not sufficiently presented and developed to trial court because father made no claim of disability in answer to termination petition. He testified only that he did not read and write well, and father’s counsel only stated he had some unidentified learning disability.

FAILURE TO IMPROVE

Mitchell v. Dep’t of Human Servs., 430 S.W.3d 851 (Ark. Ct. App. 2013). Trial court properly terminated parents’ rights and was not required to give them further time for reunification based on facts showing they were unlikely to be able to provide a safe home in a reasonable period. Parents engaged in over a decade of alcohol abuse and domestic violence with multiple life-endangering incidents, including when mother had to be forcibly removed from her burning house when she was drunk and suicidal. 

Murray v. Dep’t of Human Servs., 429 S.W.3d 288 (Ark. Ct. App. 2013). Trial court properly terminated mother’s rights where children had been in custody for two years and she failed to gain the insight or ability to provide her underweight children  enough nutrition, as directed by medical staff. She had also failed to provide a home suitable for her children because she had not obtained a GED and ceded control of her income to her boyfriend.

Spencer v. Dep’t of Health & Human Servs., 426 S.W.3d 494 (Ark. Ct. App. 2013). Trial court’s termination of parents’ rights based on the children being in care over 12 months and parents being unable or unwilling to remedy the conditions was proper. Mother failed to obtain employment despite having advanced education or refrain from using drugs. Father also failed to find appropriate housing, housing his new girlfriend’s child rather than making space for his own children.

Weatherspoon v. Dep’t of Health & Human Servs., 426 S.W.3d 520 (Ark. Ct. App. 2013). Termination of mother’s parental rights was proper even though she complied with some tasks in her plan. While she attended therapy and anger management, testimony from four professionals and her husband showed that while she was able to understand the information discussed with her service providers, she was unable or unwilling to change her behavior, and her anger issues posed a continuing threat to her children. 

HEARSAY

Wilson v. Ark. Dep’t Human Servs., 2015 WL 7289478 (Ark. Ct. App.). Trial court’s error in admitting hearsay testimony from father of two of mother’s children that one child told him that third child’s father caused bruising on mother did not prejudice father of third child. Trial court did not rely on hearsay evidence in determining termination would be in child’s best interests. 

INCARCERATION

Smith v. Dep’t of Human Servs., 431 S.W.3d 364 (Ark. Ct. App. 2013). Trial court properly terminated parents’ rights where they were incarcerated for manufacturing methamphetamines in their home with their children. Though parents were correct that the agency had not made reasonable efforts to reunify for a failure to improve ground, there was no requirement that efforts be made under ground for lengthy incarceration. Court need only find one ground to terminate. 

INDIAN CHILD WELFARE ACT

Holmes v. Ark. Dep’t Human Servs., 2016 WL 6246810 (Ark. Ct. App.). Before terminating mother’s parental rights under Indian Child Welfare Act, child welfare agency made active efforts to prevent breakup of mother’s Indian family. Agency made several referrals for mother to attend treatment and counseling to address substance abuse issues. Mother claimed she would protect children from father, who had sexually abused them, but then indicated she did not know if they had been sexually abused and attempted to reconcile with father.

PATERNITY

Earls v. Ark. Dep’t Human Servs., 2017 WL 1960380 (Ark.). State supreme court held trial court failed to establish father’s status as “parent” and thus could not terminate his parental rights. At time of termination hearing, father had not been found to be “parent,” trial court did not recognize him as biological father and continued to treat him as putative father, and statutory grounds for termination included requirement that father be found to be “parent.”

PUTATIVE FATHERS

Whitehead v. Ark. Dep’t Human Servs., 2016 WL 354101 (Ark. Ct. App.). Emergency removal of twin son and daughter from mother was based on reports mother was mentally unstable. Trial court could not order termination of father’s parental rights, even though DNA test established paternity, because his three hour-long visits with child did not sufficiently establish significant contacts such that his parental rights attached. Case was remanded for further proceedings to determine status of father’s parental rights.