Appellants, Carthal Deane Harper and Loraine Harper, the stepfather and mother of James Dennis Caskin, Jr., a minor, sought to adopt James Dennis Caskin, Jr. without the consent of the minor's father, appellee James Dennis Caskin. In doing so appellants relied upon Ark.Stat.Ann. § 56-207(a)(2) (Supp.1977), which provides:
The trial court denied appellants' petition finding that "it has not been shown that the Respondent failed for a period of (1) year, significantly without justifiable cause to communicate with and/or provide care and support for James Dennis Caskin, Jr."
The record shows that appellee and appellant, Loraine Harper, were formerly husband and wife. James Dennis Caskin, Jr. was born to that marriage. Appellee and Loraine were divorced in July, 1973, and Loraine was awarded custody of James Dennis Caskin, Jr. Loraine married appellant Carthal Deane Harper in December, 1973. A prior petition for adoption was dropped in 1975.
Carthal Deane Harper testified that he had not communicated with appellee in the past two years. He did not remember receiving any support from appellee since January of 1977. He did not know of any communications his wife may have had with appellee.
Loraine Harper, the natural mother, testified that she did not recall communicating with appellee between Christmas of 1976 and the filing of the petition in March, 1978. The last child support she received from appellee was $100 in January, 1977. She remembered calling appellee once in North Carolina, but she did not remember the date. Appellee had visited with the child three or four times since April of 1978. She is presently under court orders to let appellee visit with the child.
Carolyn Caskin, the wife of appellee, testified that Mrs. Harper called her landlord in North Carolina in June of 1977 but that Mrs. Harper refused to talk to her when she called Mrs. Harper back. The Caskins sent $50 in July, 1977, when appellee was in the hospital. Appellee, while in the Armed Services, developed epileptic seizures in October, 1976, and was in and out of the hospital during 1977. Appellee was severed from the Marines in October, 1977, with a lump sum payment of $19,000. Appellee is now an out patient at the V. A. Hospital in Little Rock. Mrs. Caskin says that she and appellee had visitation problems with Mrs. Harper. They did not contact her about visitation upon returning to Little Rock in November, 1977, because they thought it would do no good. When they did visit, Mrs. Harper required that the visiting be done in Mr. Harper's home. Appellee is still having seizures and has been unable to obtain employment since his discharge.
Appellee testified that he made his child support payments in 1975 and 1976. He last visited the child Thanksgiving, 1975. Mrs. Harper has prevented him from seeing the child since that time. Mrs. Harper called him in June, 1977, and told him that she needed $300 because the child was sick. At the time he was in the hospital receiving only one-half pay; he sent $50 in July, 1977. He could only communicate with his child through Mrs. Harper. He did not ask to speak to the child because he thought it would do no good. He had had three seizures since returning to Little Rock in November, 1977, and has been an out patient from the V. A. Hospital since returning to Little Rock. He is not presently working and has no income. He has visited the child four times since April, 1978. He says the child is entitled to V. A. benefits, but Mrs. Harper told him she was not interested in V. A. benefits.
In arguing that the trial court erred, appellants accentuate the small amount of child support paid during the 12 months preceding the filing of the petition and the lack of communication and argue that under the statute, supra, they are entitled to adopt without the parent's consent when the parent has "substantially" failed in his legal duty to be a parent for a period in excess of one year. In making their contentions, appellants overlook the provision of the statute which requires that the parent's failure to support and communicate be "without justifiable cause. . . ." They also overlook the heavy burden of proof placed upon one wishing to adopt a child without the consent of the parent, i. e., by clear and convincing evidence. See In re Cozza, 163 Cal. 514, 126 P. 161 (1912) and In re Adoption of Porras, 13 A.D.2d 239, 215 N.Y.S.2d 778 (1961).
With respect to the burden cast upon one wishing to adopt a child against the consent of a parent, 2 Am.Jur.2d Adoption § 60 states:
In 2 C.J.S. Adoption of Persons § 96 under the title "Weight and Sufficiency of Evidence" the matter is stated:
In re Cozza, 163 Cal. 514, 126 P. 161 (1912), the burden on one wishing to adopt a child without the consent of a parent is stated:
When we consider that the failure of the parent must be without justifiable cause, we cannot say that the trial erred in holding that appellants had not sustained the heavy burden of proof placed upon them.
HARRIS, C. J., and FOGLEMAN, J, concur.
I concur in the affirmance of the judgment denying the petition for adoption, because I cannot say that the finding that it had not been shown that the natural father's failure to communicate or to provide care and support for the child was without justifiable cause is clearly against the preponderance of the evidence. I feel that the portion of the opinion relating to the quantum of proof required is not only unnecessary to the decision, it is also an issue raised by the court and decided without the benefit of adversary advocacy.
Ordinarily, when there is a division of authority and the majority of the court elects to follow a majority rule or the weight of authority, I feel that I should accept that position. In this case, I cannot accept the requirement that there must be clear and convincing evidence to show that the consent of a parent to an adoption may be dispensed with in considering a petition for the adoption of his child, although I can readily accept that rule as applicable where the consent is rendered unnecessary because there has been an abandonment. The very word "abandonment" requires such a construction. It has been defined to mean:
See, Walthall v. Hime, 236 Ark. 689, 368 S.W.2d 77 (1963); Woodson v. Lee, 221 Ark. 517, 254 S.W.2d 326. See also, Hyde, Ex'rs. v. Hyde, 240 Ark. 463, 400 S.W.2d 288. Both Walthall and Woodson were adoption cases, based upon our adoption statute then in force. See Ark.Stat.Ann. § 56-106 (Repl. 1971). We have never quite reached the point of requiring proof of abandonment by a parent by clear and convincing evidence. In Woodson, we quoted from a California case [In re Cordy,
Detroit, L. & N. R. Co. v. McCammon, 108 Mich. 368, 66 N.W. 471 (1896).
Intendment has also been given definitions such as: inclination, disposition, meaning, signification, intention, design, purpose, significance; the true or correct meaning of something. Webster's New International Dictionary, 2d Edition; Webster's Third New International Dictionary; The Random House Dictionary of the English Language. Intendment of law has been defined as: the true meaning, the correct understanding, or intention of the law; a presumption or inference made by the courts. Bouvier's Law Dictionary (Rawle's 3rd Revision). Thus, the effect of Woodson would be no greater than the creation of a presumption favoring the parent or the requirement that all inferences deducible from the evidence be drawn favorably to the parent. This would do no more than require that the petitioner for adoption assume the burden of proof and that the court draw inferences favorable to the parent, much as the Workmen's Compensation Commission does in favor of a claimant.
On the other hand, we have recognized that it is widely held that clear, unequivocal and decisive evidence is required to establish abandonment of property. Hendrix v. Hendrix, 256 Ark. 289, 506 S.W.2d 848.
A drastic change was made when the Revised Uniform Adoption Act [Ark.Stat. Ann. §§ 56-201—56-221 (Supp. 1977)] went into effect on July 5, 1977. See § 22, Act 135 of 1977. In the new act, the General Assembly added a ground for dispensing with the requirement of consent, although the provision as to abandonment was retained. This proceeding, however, does not involve Ark.Stat.Ann. § 56-207(a)(1), under which consent of a parent who has abandoned a child is not required. A much less stringent standard for dispensing with consent was added to our adoption law by Ark.Stat.Ann. § 56-207(a)(2). Under that subsection, consent of a parent of a child in the custody of another is not required if the parent, for a period of at least one year, has failed significantly without justifiable cause, either to communicate with the child or to provide for its care and support as required by law or judicial decree. It seems to me that the addition of this ground was a recognition of the fact that, while parental rights are important, they are not more important, or to be given more emphasis, than the rights of children.
The Commissioners' note to the applicable section of the Revised Uniform Adoption Act certainly suggests that there was an intention to impose a less stringent standard than would be required to show abandonment.
Requiring a greater quantum of proof than a preponderance of the evidence for showing that a parent has failed significantly and without justifiable cause to either communicate with his child or to provide for its care and support as a substitute for that parent's consent does emphasize parental rights and deemphasize the child's rights. The parent-child relationship involves reciprocal rights and obligations. They are not reciprocal when the rights of a parent are elevated above both his own obligations and his child's rights.
Many other jurisdictions hold that the rights of the parent must yield to the rights and interests of others in view of the requirement that the welfare and best interests of the minor should at all times be controlling in adoption proceedings. Hamilton v. Rose, 99 So.2d 234 (Fla. 1957); Stearns v. Allen, 183 Mass. 404, 67 N.E. 349 (1903). It is widely held that the welfare and best interests of the minor child are the dominant, primary and paramount consideration and the rights and wishes and feeling of the natural parents and the petitioners for adoption are secondary, subordinate and subservient thereto. In re Adoption of Morrison, 260 Wis. 50, 49 N.W.2d 759 (1951); In re Neusche, 398 S.W.2d 453 (Mo.App. 1965); Palmisano v. Baltimore County Welfare Board, 249 Md. 94, 238 A.2d 251 (1968); Rhodes v. Shirley, 234 Ind. 587, 129 N.E.2d 60 (1955); Galloway v. Galloway, 249 S.C. 157, 153 S.E.2d 326 (1967). In elaborating upon the duty of the courts, even appellate courts, to protect the rights of minor children the South Carolina Court said:
The Massachusetts Supreme Court has said that the interest of natural parents, important as it is, must yield when it is in conflict with the best interest of the child. In re Adoption of a Minor, 343 Mass. 292, 178 N.E.2d 264 (1961).
When the new statute provided a more liberal basis for dispensing with parental consent, the majority rule, the weight of authority and our previous holdings on the question of abandonment became much less significant. We should look to the decisions of those states which have adopted the uniform act.
In North Dakota, a state which has adopted the uniform act, the Supreme Court, speaking of parental rights in Kottsick v. Carlson, 241 N.W.2d 842 (N.D.1976), stated:
The Supreme Court of Montana (where the original uniform act was substantially adopted) considered parental obligations in Conley v. Walden, 166 Mont. 369, 533 P.2d 955 (1975) and reached the following conclusion:
We have also recognized specific parental duties and obligations which are indicative of a correlative right of the minor child. The parent has a legal and moral duty to support and educate his child and to provide the necessities of life to it and to give it those advantages which are reasonable, considering the parent's financial condition and position in society. Bostic v. Bostic, 229 Ark. 127, 313 S.W.2d 553; Kuespert v. Roland, 222 Ark. 153, 257 S.W.2d 562; Brown v. Brown, 233 Ark. 422, 345 S.W.2d 27; Central Manufacturers' Mut. Ins. Co. v. Friedman, 213 Ark. 9, 209 S.W.2d 102, 1 A.L.R.2d 557; McDaniel v. Brandon & Baugh, 168 Ark. 1063, 272 S.W. 670; Bockman v. Bockman, 202 Ark. 585, 151 S.W.2d 99; Alcorn v. Alcorn, 183 Ark. 342, 35 S.W.2d 1027; Aaron v. Aaron, 228 Ark. 27, 305 S.W.2d 550; Sain v. Smith, 254 Ark. 720, 495 S.W.2d 865. The courts will zealously enforce these duties. Jordan v. Wright, 45 Ark. 237; Waller v. Waller, 220 Ark. 19, 245 S.W.2d 814. They are derived from principles of natural law and are owed both to the child and to the public. Jordan v. Wright, supra; Johnson v. Mitchell, 164 Ark. 1, 260 S.W. 710.
In Oklahoma, where the original uniform act was adopted in 1957, the primary inquiry in adoption is whether it will promote the best interest of the child. In re Adoption of Greer, 463 P.2d 677 (Okl.1970). In Montana, the best interests of the child are of utmost concern in adoption cases. In re Adoption of Biery, 164 Mont. 353, 522 P.2d 1377 (1974).
It is important that the "best interests of the child" in adoption cases take on a meaning different from that accorded it as a term of art in granting custody in a divorce action. In an adoption proceeding under the uniform act, the term includes among other things, the "total relationship between child and parent pertaining to, and involving heterogeneous values, rights, duties and concepts." Kottsick v. Carlson, 241 N.W.2d 842 (N.D.1976). The North Dakota court indicated that the grounds for termination of parental rights "must rest upon the attitude, conduct, ability and such other matters relating to the parents' duties, responsibilities and care for the child which may be, and frequently are, collectively referred to as `fitness.'" The best interest of the child does not require that it be placed in the wealthiest home, but it should be in the home which, all things considered, is available and will promote the welfare of the particular child. In re Neusche, 398 S.W.2d 453 (Mo.App.1965). The matter has been put in appropriate perspective in Florida, where in Jones v. Allen, 277 So.2d 599 (Fla.App.1973), the court said:
If the parents' duties and obligations are so important and so zealously guarded by the courts, why should it be necessary to require that default by having "failed substantially
Even in Oklahoma, where the statute requires a wilful failure or refusal to support, the supreme court has held that it will not reverse the findings of a trial court applying the rule of preponderance of the evidence, unless they appear, after examination of the record to be clearly against the weight of the evidence. DeGoIyer v. Chesney, 527 P.2d 844 (Okl.1974); Wade v. Mantooth, All P.2d 313 (Okl.1966); Davis v. Neely, 387 P.2d 494 (Okl.1963), cert. den. 379 U.S. 2, 85 S.Ct. 31, 13 L.Ed.2d 21 (1964).
I find no sound basis for a "clear and convincing" evidence rule and no reason why the typical de novo review in equity cases is not adequate for protection of the rights of both parent and child.
I am authorized to state that the Chief Justice joins in this opinion.