Thursday, May 05, 2011

Summary 2011 WY 78

Summary of Decision May 5, 2011

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Summaries are prepared by Law Librarians and are not official statements of the Wyoming Supreme Court

Case Name: IN THE MATTER OF THE ADOPTION OF RMS, Minor child: EOS, v. JLS and RS

Citation: 2011 WY 60

Docket Number: S 10 0209


Appeal from the District Court of Natrona County, Honorable Scott W. Skavdahl, Judge

Representing Appellant (Plaintiff/Defendant): Tamara K. Schroeder of Chapman Valdez, Casper, Wyoming.

Representing Appellee (Plaintiff/Defendant): Stacy E. Casper of Casper Law Office, LLC, Casper, Wyoming.

Date of Decision: May 5, 2011

Facts: EOS, biological mother (Mother), appeals from the order allowing JLS’s and RS’s (Father and Stepmother) petition to adopt minor child, RMS, to proceed without Mother’s consent because she did not pay child support for a year before the petition was filed. Appellant claims there was insufficient proof that her failure to pay child support was willful.

Issues: Whether the District Court abused its discretion by allowing the petition for adoption to proceed without the consent of the Appellant. Whether the evidence was insufficient to support a finding that the Appellant had willfully failed to pay child support.

Holdings: A district court’s determination that a parent’s consent for an adoption is not required effectively terminates that parent’s parental rights. The right to associate with one’s family is fundamental; consequently, courts strictly scrutinize petitions to terminate a parent’s rights to his or her children. The petitioners have the obligation to establish by clear and convincing evidence that termination and adoption is appropriate. Mother claims that her failure to pay child support was not willful because she was unemployed and did not have the ability to pay.

In the instant case, the evidence established that Mother worked at a daycare until shortly after the child support order was entered, at which time she voluntarily ended her employment, and hence voluntarily terminated her means of providing support. Although she testified that she applied for jobs after that, without success, she did not take other steps to improve her prospects of becoming employed such as registering with an employment service or finishing the GED program to enhance her education. In addition, when Mother secured a job babysitting for her cousin and was paid for those efforts, she did not pay any of that money toward her child support obligation, despite the fact that her parents were paying for her living expenses. Although she testified that she did not voluntarily remain unemployed to avoid her child support obligation, the district court weighed the evidence and concluded she acted willfully.

The district court’s conclusion that Mother acted “intentionally, knowingly, purposely, voluntarily, consciously, deliberately, and without justifiable excuse, as distinguished from carelessly, inadvertently, accidentally, negligently, heedlessly or thoughtlessly’” when she did not pay child support was supported by the evidence. Contrary to her assertion, the record does not establish that she was being punished simply for being poor and uneducated. The evidence shows that Mother did not take the reasonable or logical steps necessary to become employed and support her child. In other words, she failed to demonstrate that, through whatever financial means were available to her; she had not forgotten her legal obligation to support her child. The district court did not abuse its discretion by concluding there was clear and convincing evidence that Mother willfully failed to support her child. Affirmed.

Chief Justice Kite delivered the opinion for the court.

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