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