Putative Fathers in Arkansas (PART II)

Arkansas Lawyer

William Prettyman is a licensed attorney in Arkansas.

Although putative fathers in Arkansas are statutorily required to develop a significant custodial, personal, or financial relationship with their child in order to have the ability to veto an adoption, the Arkansas Supreme Court has carved out a small caveat to this rule. By showing that his undertakings were thwarted, an unmarried father may establish good cause as to why he was unable to strictly comply with the adoption statute’s requirements. In re Adoption of Baby Boy B., 2012 Ark. 92. In effect, the Court crafted a thwarted father test, which requires a father to show 1) he made efforts to form a significant custodial, personal, or financial relationship with his child; 2) the efforts were undertaken prior to the filing of the adoption petition; and 3) the efforts were thwarted.

The question still remains whether Arkansas is doing enough to protect both the due process rights of the father and the best interest of the child. In his concurrence of Baby Boy B., Justice Danielson crafted a more nuanced and father-friendly standard, which asks whether the father established a significant custodial, personal, or financial relationship, and, if no, whether he undertook sufficient prompt and good faith efforts to do so. Unlike the majority’s thwarted father test, this test is not reliant upon a mother’s actions to frustrate the father’s efforts.

Like Danielson, I believe the Court could have done more; however, the Court definitely made a move in the right direction by recognizing that strict statutory compliance can infringe upon a father’s parental rights. No matter the test used, a Court should always remember:

Adoption changes the natural relationship between parent and child; it changes the course of lives, the manner of inheritance, the people with whom the child associates, and cuts the ties and relationship between the child and the family of the parent whose rights are terminated. To make a decision based solely upon the best interest of the child could be a dangerous thing. A literal interpretation of what is in the best interest of the child could conceivably lead to a decision to award the child to the parties who were able to furnish the most material things for the comfort and pleasures of life. The wealthy, even though strangers, could take the children of the poor because the children would obviously be better off in a home of plenty. The phrase “best interest of the child” means more than station in life and material things. “Best interest of the child” includes moral, spiritual, material and cultural values, matters of convenience and friends and family relationships. We have recognized as a cardinal principle of law and nature that parents who are able to support their child in their own style of life, however poor and humble they might be, should not be deprived of parental privileges, except when urgently necessary to afford the child reasonable protection.

Bush v. Dietz, 284 Ark. 191, 195-96, 680 S.W.2d 704, 707 (1984).

 

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