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In re Adoption of MMM

Supreme Court of Wyoming

June 6, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF THE ADOPTION OF: MMM, a minor child,
v.
AMMJ, Appellee (Respondent). MMM and CRM, Appellants (Petitioners),

         Appeal from the District Court of Fremont County The Honorable Norman E. Young, Judge

          Representing Appellants: Wendy S. Owens, Casper, Wyoming.

          Representing Appellee: Pro se - no brief filed.

          Before BURKE, C.J., and HILL [*] , DAVIS, FOX, and KAUTZ, JJ.

          FOX, JUSTICE.

         [¶1] Father and Stepmother petitioned for a decree of adoption allowing Stepmother to adopt MMM without Mother's consent. The district court denied the petition, finding that Father and Stepmother failed to show by clear and convincing evidence that Mother willfully abandoned MMM or that she willfully failed to pay child support. Father and Stepmother appeal and we affirm.

         ISSUES

         [¶2] 1. Did the district court abuse its discretion when it found that Father and Stepmother failed to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that Mother willfully abandoned MMM?

         2. Did the district court abuse its discretion when it found that Father and Stepmother failed to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that Mother willfully failed to pay child support during the relevant period?

         FACTS

         [¶3] The facts in this case are generally undisputed. On November 5, 2008, MMM was born to Father and Mother, who were never married. Mother was a drug addict and was first arrested when MMM was two years old. She has spent a significant amount of time since then either in incarceration or in a court-ordered treatment program. MMM has lived the vast majority of her life with Father. Father and Stepmother were married on December 29, 2012, and MMM has resided with both since then.

         [¶4] The district court entered a joint custody order in January 2013, granting Father primary physical custody of MMM, and granting Mother visitation by telephone every Tuesday from 5:00 to 6:00 p.m. for six months, with any other visitation at Father's discretion. The order set Mother's child support obligation at $50 per month, and gave her the right to petition for modification of both visitation and child support after six months. Mother never petitioned to modify visitation or child support.

         [¶5] From the date of the order through the date the petition for adoption was filed (except for nine months from January 8 to October 13, 2016, and four days in June of 2016), Mother has been incarcerated or in inpatient treatment for her drug addiction. Mother's contacts with MMM consisted of phone calls and letters from prison and phone calls during the brief period when she was not incarcerated. Mother agreed that her phone calls have been inconsistent, but testified that both she and Father share in the responsibility for those inconsistencies. Sometimes Father and Stepmother would not allow contact with MMM and, according to Mother, "this would go on for extended periods of time, and then I would get a letter saying it was okay to call again, and . . . I would initiate phone calls." Mother explained that Father and Stepmother would ask her not to call when they were visiting extended family in Arizona. And, while she was incarcerated, it was difficult to make consistent calls because she was not always available at the time she was supposed to call, but that "at all times, [she] was doing what [she] could." Mother also explained that she had talked with Father, trying to rekindle their relationship, probably 15 to 20 times between January 2016 and October 2016. During that time frame, she spoke to MMM "about 12" times. She testified, "When I was supposed to call, I would call. Sometimes I was working and I didn't. And then after [Father] and I had a dispute on personal matters, it got awkward between us. And I, at that time, had started using, and I quit attempting to make contact."

         [¶6] With respect to her relationship with MMM, Mother explained:

At this point, I'm at a very pivotal point in my life and in my drug addiction. Instead of going and doing my time this time, I have voluntarily went into a program that is brutal. . . . This time is different. I am at a different place. . . .
I at no point have agreed to or want to have my rights terminated. . . . Like this is my last chance. . . . And the only thing I have is the knowledge that I have to try to fight for myself as a parent for my daughter.

         [¶7] Father testified that Mother's contact with MMM was "sporadic" and that when she did not call as scheduled, "she would say it was because they were on lockdown or whatever reason." He described contact while Mother was in prison as being "good for two, three weeks straight, and then it might not be for a month or two months, and then we'd get one here, one there." During the time Mother was not in prison, the times for Mother's calls changed to accommodate MMM's dance schedule and "for two months, [Mother] was on point calling . . . and then all of a sudden nothing again." Mother told Father that the scheduled time conflicted with her work schedule so, again, they changed the time, but "she never tried to call again." Father also testified that Mother never sent MMM a birthday card, or anything for her birthday or Christmas, and that Mother had not called since the adoption petition was filed.

         [¶8] Occasionally, while she was incarcerated, Mother held jobs and made approximately 30 cents an hour, but the record does not indicate the total amount she earned. In 2014, Mother's grandmother gave her some money, but the amount and frequency of those gifts are not contained in the record either. During the nine months when she was not confined, Mother worked part-time as a seasonal flagger for a road construction company and earned approximately $200 at that job. Mother made one $50 child support payment in January 2013 and has made no other support payments. Mother contributed nothing toward child support from her income at any of her jobs or from the money her grandmother gave her. Mother admitted that she ...


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