Suppose a mother consented to a guardianship of her child because she had a drug problem and was seeking treatment.1 Now suppose the mother, after putting her life back together, walks into your office and wants to terminate the guardianship. What standard applies to her petition to terminate the guardianship? This article attempts
to answer that question.

The Arkansas statute governing guardianships provides that “[a] guardianship may be terminated by court order . . . [if] . . . the guardianship is no longer necessary or for the best interest of the ward.”2 While this statute might appear to be straightforward, there have been four major Arkansas Supreme Court cases in the last six years or so dealing with this issue, each of them with a concurrence, a dissent, or both.

Some of the complexity arises because of a 2000 case from the Supreme Court of the United States dealing with grandparent visitation. This article will begin with a short synopsis of that case, and then move to the evolution of this area of law in light of that opinion.

Troxel v. Granville: “There is a presumption that fit parents act in their children’s best interests.”3

In Troxel v. Granville, the United States Supreme Court examined a Washington statute that allowed courts to award visitation of a child to any person if the visitation was in the best interest of the child. The Supreme Court held that the statute was unconstitutional because it gave no deference to a parent’s decision regarding visitation. The Court held that “[t]here is a presumption that fit parents act in their children’s best interests.”

Although the Troxel decision would eventually become important in termination of consensual guardianship cases in Arkansas, the first major Arkansas case on point that began to move the needle in favor of parental rights did so without relying on Troxel.

Read More…

The 2016 nonpartisan judicial elections held in Arkansas on March 1st have resulted in two new Arkansas Supreme Court Justices, one new Judge on the Arkansas Court of Appeals, and one runoff election for a seat on the Arkansas Court of Appeals.  The following are results with nearly all precincts reporting:

Arkansas Supreme Court

Chief Justice Position 1

Association Justice Position 5

Arkansas Court of Appeals

Associate Judge District 2, Position 2

Associate Judge District 5

The runoff election between James McMenis and Mark Klappenbach for the Associate Judge District 5 position on the Arkansas Court of Appeals will take place during the general election on November 8, 2016.

There were also two uncontested races in the Arkansas Court of Appeals: Judge Rita W. Gruber will remain the Associate Justice for District 6, Position 1; and Judge Waymond Brown will keep his seat as District 7 Associate Judge.

Related Post: 2016 Arkansas Supreme Court & Arkansas Court of Appeals Election Roundup

Posted by: Tasha C. Taylor | February 1, 2016

Timeline of an Arkansas Civil Appeal

Introducing the new Timeline of an Arkansas Civil Appeal infographic, brought to you by Taylor & Taylor Law Firm, P.A.  If you would like to receive a copy of our custom timeline card for your office, just send us an email with your address and request and we’ll mail one out to you for free!  You can email us at



Posted by: Tasha C. Taylor | January 20, 2016

In Memory of Chief Justice Hannah

The Arkansas Supreme Court issued a per curiam last week entitled In Memory of Chief Justice James R. Hannah, in which the Court recognized Justice Hannah’s 37 years of service to the Arkansas Judiciary.

I had the privilege and honor of starting my legal career at the Arkansas Supreme Court during the time when Chief Justice Hannah led the Court.  Much has been written about how he was an accomplished jurist, and rightfully so.  But, I was always most impressed by his gentle smile and soft voice with which he seemed to greet everyone he met.  It’s no wonder he was such a remarkable leader who aspired for a system of justice where all people would receive the same level of treatment.

“We have the best judicial system in the world. But if a person cannot walk through those courtroom doors because of their economic status or race, then having the best judicial system means absolutely nothing.” – Chief Justice Jim Hannah, June 2010.

* Hat tip to Amy Dunn Johnson for sharing the above quote and link to the following video where Justice Hannah speaks about access to justice during his first “State of the Judiciary Address” at the 2010 annual meeting of the Arkansas Bar Association.


Posted by: Tasha C. Taylor | December 21, 2015

2016 Arkansas Supreme Court & Arkansas Court of Appeals Election Roundup

The party primary and judicial general election will be held in Arkansas this year on March 1, 2016.  The judicial general election includes four contested races for seats on Arkansas’s appellate courts (two in each court).  The races for the open seats on the Arkansas Supreme Court will be elected in a statewide election.  The seats open on the Arkansas Court of Appeals will be elected only by voters in each seat’s district.

Arkansas Supreme Court

In the Arkansas Supreme Court, the contest for the position of Chief Justice (Position 1) resulted from former Chief Justice Hannah’s announcement earlier this year that he would retire early.  Position 5 is open because Justice Danielson decided not to seek re-election for that position.

The candidates for the two contested races on the Arkansas Supreme Court are as listed below along with a link to each candidate’s campaign site.

Chief Justice Position 1

Association Justice Position 5

Arkansas Court of Appeals

In the Court of Appeals, there are two races that are uncontested: Judge Rita W. Gruber will remain the Associate Justice for District 6, Position 1; and Judge Waymond Brown will keep his seat as District 7 Associate Judge.

The two contested races in the Court of Appeals are for District 2, Position 2 (currently occupied by Judge Cliff Hoofman, who was appointed to replace Justice Rhonda Wood when she was elected to the Arkansas Supreme Court) and District 5 (currently occupied by Mike Kinard, who was appointed to replace Justice Robin Wynne after Wynne was elected to the Arkansas Supreme Court).

The candidates for the two contested positions on the Arkansas Court of Appeals are listed below each position in the list that follows (along with a link to each candidate’s campaign site).

Associate Judge District 2, Position 2

Associate Judge District 5

Judge Mike Murphy

Judge Mike Murphy

Faulkner County Circuit Court Judge Mike Murphy announced this morning his plan to run for District 2, Position 2 of the Arkansas Court of Appeals on the March 1, 2016 election.  Judge Murphy was elected to serve as the 1st Division of the Faulkner County Circuit Court in May of 2014.  Prior to taking office for his elected position in January of 2015, Judge Murphy was appointed by Governor Mike Beebe to fill the vacancy left in the 2nd Division of the Faulkner County Circuit Court when the Arkansas Supreme Court removed Judge Mike Maggio from the bench last year.  After completing Maggio’s term through December 31, 2014, Judge Murphy took office in his elected (and current) position as 1st Division Circuit Court Judge in Faulkner County.  His term in that position expires on December 31, 2020.

The Court of Appeals position that Judge Murphy is seeking is currently occupied by Governor Beebe appointee Cliff Hoofman.  Judge Hoofman was appointed to that seat when Rhonda Wood was elected to the Arkansas Supreme Court and may not seek re-election to that position.

The press release issued this morning by Judge Mike Murphy follows:

(Conway, Arkansas) — Circuit Judge Mike Murphy of Conway has announced his candidacy for the Arkansas Court of Appeals, District 2, Position 2 in the March 1, 2016 nonpartisan judicial elections.

Murphy currently serves as the 1st Division circuit judge for the 20th Judicial District (Faulkner, Searcy and Van Buren counties).

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve our citizens as one of their trial judges.  It is an honor to seek this position on the appellate court bench.  If elected, I pledge to work hard and uphold our laws with fairness, honesty and integrity.”

A Faulkner County native, Murphy opened a private law practice in 1988 and worked as a deputy prosecutor.  Elected as Conway’s city attorney in 1990, he served for over 22 years before being elected circuit judge.  Murphy attended UCA and the University of Arkansas, receiving his law degree from the School of Law in Fayetteville in 1986.  He also served as law clerk for the United States Magistrate Judge in Springfield, Missouri.

Murphy was an adjunct instructor at UCA; member of the Arkansas Bar Association House of Delegates; a past-president of the Arkansas City Attorneys Association and former member of the Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council.  He is a member of the Arkansas Judicial Council, the Arkansas and Faulkner County Bar Associations and serves on the boards of the Conway Public Schools Foundation and the Faulkner County Museum Commission.

Murphy is the father of three teenagers and member of Conway’s First United Methodist Church.

District 2 of the Court of Appeals is comprised of 18 counties, including Baxter, Boone, Cleburne, Conway, Faulkner, Fulton, Independence, Izard, Jackson, Lawrence, Marion, Newton, Pope, Randolph, Searcy, Sharp, Stone, and Van Buren.

Arkansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Jim Hannah

Arkansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Jim Hannah

Earlier this month, Chief Justice Jim Hannah announced his plans to retire early from his position on the Arkansas Supreme Court due to health issues.  Justice Hannah was first elected as an Associate Justice on the Arkansas Supreme Court in 2000 and later was elected to the Chief Justice position in 2004.

The following is Chief Justice Hannah’s Resignation Statement:

The people of Arkansas elected me to our state’s highest court in year 2000. I will be forever grateful. It is with great pride and pleasure that I have served on the Arkansas Supreme Court for over fourteen years, the last ten in the role of Chief Justice. In recent weeks I have been challenged by a significant health issue. Having the utmost respect for my job as Chief Justice and the business of the court, I have made a decision to tender my resignation effective at the end of August 31, 2015 to focus full-time on addressing my immediate health condition. There is no greater honor that a person can receive than to have another person place his or her trust and confidence in you. I want to thank the people of Arkansas who placed their trust and confidence in me and allowed me to serve them on their Arkansas Supreme Court. I sincerely appreciate the excellent staff that has worked with me. I have been privileged to work with some of the best district court judges, circuit court judges, appellate court judges, and justices in the country. I have also been privileged to work with our excellent Administrative Office of the Courts, its leadership and dedicated employees. Lastly, thank you to my wife Pat for her sacrifice and support.

Prior to his retirement, Justice Hannah was the longest-serving member of the Arkansas judiciary, having served as a judge for more than thirty-seven years.

Howard Brill

Professor Howard Brill

On Thursday of this week, Governor Asa Hutchinson appointed Professor Howard Brill to complete Chief Justice Hannah’s term on the Arkansas Supreme Court, which ends in 2016.  Professor Brill is the Vincent Foster University Professor of Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility at the University of Arkansas School of Law.  He joined the law school in 1975.  Among his many achievements, Professor Brill is widely known in Arkansas as the author of Arkansas Law of Damages, which is routinely cited by Arkansas state and federal courts.  He has also authored Arkansas Professional and Judicial Ethics.  Professor Brill has previously served as a Special Justice on the Arkansas Supreme Court on several occasions.

Arkansas Supreme CourtJustice Paul Danielson announced last week that he does not plan to seek re-election as an Associate Justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court at the end of 2016.  Justice Danielson said that he was grateful for the opportunity to serve and commented that he would seek re-election were it not for an Arkansas law requiring judges to retire by age 70 so as not to lose their retirement benefits.

“I am eternally grateful to the people of Arkansas for allowing me the privilege of serving on this court for what will be ten years, after having served twelve years as a circuit judge,” Danielson said. “And it has been my honor and pleasure to work among such esteemed colleagues over the years. Were it not for the state law prohibiting me from seeking re-election without forfeiting my retirement benefits, I would continue to seek re-election as long as the good people of this State would have me.”

Within a few hours of Justice Danielson’s announcement, Circuit Court Judge Shawn Womack announced that he’ll run for Justice Danielson’s seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court in 2016.  Judge Womack, a former Arkansas lawmaker, is currently a circuit court judge in Mountain Home.

In re Guardianship of S.H., 2012 Ark. 245, 409 S.W.3d 307 (“S.H. I“) and In re Guardianship of S.H., 2015 Ark. 75 (“S.H. II“) both address the rule that applies when a parent who originally consents to a guardianship later seeks to terminate the guardianship.  In S.H. I (decided in 2012), the Arkansas Supreme Court set forth a two-step burden shifting analysis for determining whether to terminate a guardianship in such situations.  In S.H. II (which was the second appeal of the same case, decided in February 2015), the Arkansas Supreme Court clarified the burdens of proof that apply to each step in the analysis.  S.H. II was a split opinion, however, and for reasons that will be discussed in more detail below, there is some question as to which rule will apply in the future.  Therefore, this blog post analyzes the rule from both the majority opinion (which technically appears to be a plurality opinion) and the concurring opinion, along with a note regarding which rule might apply in the future.

I. Legal Background

SH II addresses situations where a parent consents to another person (typically a family member) serving as the guardian of his or her child, and then later that parent seeks to terminate that guardianship.  This can arise in a number of circumstances, such as when a parent must leave the country to serve in the military (Witham v. Beck, 2013 Ark. App. 351) or when a parent is overcoming a drug problem (Crenshaw v. Crenshaw, 2012 Ark. App. 695).

A. Abolition of the Material Change in Circumstances Standard

For many years, appellate courts in Arkansas had “equate[d] a petition to terminate a guardianship to a change of child custody among natural parents.” Smith v. Thomas, 373 Ark. 427, 432, 284 S.W.3d 476, 479 (2008).  As a result, in order for a parent to terminate a guardianship, the parent was required to prove that there had been a material change in circumstances. Graham v. Matheny, 2009 Ark. 481, 6, 346 S.W.3d 273, 277 (2009).  In Graham, the Arkansas Supreme Court recognized that “there is confusion regarding the standard to be used in termination-of-guardianship cases.” Id. at 14, 346 S.W.3d at 280-81.  Therefore, the Arkansas Supreme Court took the opportunity to set forth five principles that apply in termination of guardianship cases.  Perhaps the most significant of those principles was that “a change-of-custody analysis using the material-change-of-circumstances standard should not be done in termination-of-guardianship cases.” Id. at 15, 346 S.W.3d at 281.

The Court in Graham noted that the guardianship statute, which provides that “[a] guardianship may be terminated by court order . . . [if] the guardianship is no longer necessary or for the best interest of the ward,” is a disjunctive test. See Ark. Code Ann. § 28-65-401(b)(3).  Nevertheless, the Arkansas Supreme Court still held that even if there is evidence that a guardianship is no longer necessary, the best interests of the child must still be examined.  The concurrence in Graham, written by Justice Hannah, joined by Justice Danielson, made the point that the statute is a disjunctive statate and argued that “[u]pon remand, the circuit court should be ordered to determine whether if for any reason, the guardianship is no longer necessary or for some other reason it is no longer in the best interest of [the ward] that the guardianship continue.” Graham, 2009 Ark. 481, at 19, 346 S.W.3d at 283 (Hannah, C.J., concurring).

The concurrence, in a footnote, made one other point: That the parties had not raised the question of whether the guardianship statute as written violated parents’ constitutional rights to the custody and control of children. Id. at 18, 346 S.W.3d at 282 (Hannah, C.J., concurring).  Specifically, the concurrence made reference to Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 120 Sup. Ct. 2054 (2000), in which the Arkansas Supreme Court had held in a grandparent visitation case that “there is a presumption that fit parents act in the best interests of their children.”  The Arkansas Supreme Court had also recognized this principle in a grandparent visitation case, holding that “a fit parent is given a presumption that he or she is acting in a child’s best interests.” Linder v. Linder, 348 Ark. 322, 72 S.W.3d 841 (2002).

Less than three years after the decision in Graham v. Metheny was handed down, the Arkansas Supreme Court would address head-on the issue of parental rights in the context of a termination of a consensual guardianship.

Read More…

Strother v. Strother

In Strother v. Strother, 2015 Ark. App. 196, the Arkansas Court of Appeals recently held that a decree that “does not contain a final award of custody” is not an appealable order.  A review of Strother, along with several other cases on this topic, reveals that the line between a final custody order and a temporary custody order is not always clear, so attorneys should be cautious before choosing not to appeal from what might appear to be a temporary custody order.

In Strother, the dad and mom had married in 2001, and the mom had filed for divorce in 2013.  In her complaint for divorce, the mom sought joint legal custody, with her having primary physical custody.  The court appointed an attorney ad litem, and eventually held a hearing “on the divorce and custody issues.”  The court then issued a letter opinion in which it granted the couple joint legal custody, and granted the mom primary physical custody.

With respect to custody issues, the circuit court’s order stated as follows:

[T]his court finds that the aforesaid orders of this court in regards [to] custody and other issues concerning the aforesaid two (2) minor children are temporary in nature; that an attorney ad litem will be appointed to represent the aforesaid two (2) minor children; that Defendant shall be solely responsible for payment of all attorney fees and expenses which will [be] owed to the attorney ad litem; and that issues concerning permanent orders in regard [to] custody and other issues concerning the aforesaid two (2) minor children will be determined in the future by agreement of the parties or by order of the court.

The Court of Appeals in this case examined whether this was an appealable order.  Rule 2(d) of the Arkansas Rules of Appellate Procedure–Civil provides that “[a]ll final orders awarding custody are final appealable orders.”  In other words, even if an order granting divorce isn’t otherwise considered a final order, if the order is final with respect to custody, then it will be final for purposes of appealing the custody determination.

In Strother, the Court of Appeals held that the order was not a “final order[] awarding custody.”  The Court of Appeals noted that “the order specifically states that issues of custody ‘are temporary in nature’ and that ‘issues concerning permanent orders in regard [to] custody . . . will be determined in the future.'”  Therefore, the Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal until a final custody award is entered.

In its opinion in Strother, the Court of Appeals cited to an Arkansas Supreme Court case, Gilbert v. Moore, 364 Ark. 127, 216 S.W.3d 583 (2005).  In that case, the trial court had entered an emergency ex parte order granting temporary custody of the couple’s child to the father.  Four days later, the trial court held a short hearing and ordered the custody of the child remain with the father, and that the mother was to receive weekend visitation.  The trial court stated from the bench:

I signed an Ex Parte Order a few days ago which placed the temporary custody in the Plaintiff, the father. I really don’t know where this child is better off long term. I guess that’s something that is going to have to be resolved at a later date. I presume both of these parties want long term custody of this child. I may or may not be right about that. In the meantime I’m going to leave the Ex Parte Order in effect; however, the child shall spend each weekend with his mother beginning 6:00 p.m. on Friday and ending on 6:00 p.m. on Sunday. And when counsel and the parties are ready for this case to be heard in its entirety on its merits thoroughly by myself or somebody, probably somebody else, and hopefully make the right decision on where this child should grow up, then that’s what will happen.

The trial court went on to state from the bench that the order would be “on a temporary basis the child should stay with the father during the week and the mother during the weekends until this case can be resolved on its merits.”  The order itself was not quite as specific as to the temporary nature of the order, but did state that custody would remain with the father “at this time.”

In Gilbert, the Arkansas Supreme Court held that the custody order was a temporary order and therefore not appealable.  This, however, is where the note of caution comes in.  The Arkansas Supreme Court held that “[w]hether a custody order is final or temporary is not dependent upon the style of the order,” and that “custody orders styled as temporary may be nonetheless final for purposes of appeal if the issue of custody was decided on the merits and the parties have completed their proof.”  In Gilbert, the basis of the holding appears to have been that “the issue of custody ha[d] yet to be determined on its merits and . . . the parties ha[d] not completed their proof on the issue.”

This seems to be consistent with previous cases cited by the Arkansas Supreme Court in Gilbert.  Although those cases predate the addition of “final orders awarding custody” to the list of appealable orders (that amendment was adopted in 1999), the holdings are still informative.  In those three cases, the key issue seems to whether there has been a final hearing on the merits.  In Sandlin v. Sandlin, for example, the Arkansas Supreme Court held that the order in that case was not appealable because “the main issue, that of custody,” had not been decided. 290 Ark. 366, 719 S.W.2d 433 (1986).  The Arkansas Supreme Court noted that it had previously held that “there can be no appeal . . . until the proof has been completed and the order entered.” Similarly, in Jones v. Jones, the Arkansas Court of Appeals held that a custody order “is final for purposes of appeal if the the issue of custody was decided on the merits and the parties have completed their proof.” 41 Ark. App. 146, 852 S.W.2d 325 (1993).

In Chancellor v. Chancellor, 282 Ark. 227, 667 S.W.2d 950 (1984), the Arkansas Supreme Court held, based on the following, that the custody order was not final:

The record reflects that appellant has not yet completed her proof. The order in the present case did not terminate any cause or right, dismiss any party from the action or conclude their rights. By its very terms it is a temporary order. The court ordered an investigation of the respective homes and ordered that a report be made to the court. It is obvious the court did not intend to take final action on this matter based solely upon the fact that the mother may be living in adultery.

This brings us back to Strother.  In that case, it appears that there had, in fact, been a hearing on the merits.  The order, however, appears to have left custody open until an attorney ad litem could be appointed and could report back to the court.  In that sense, the issue of custody was still open.

The Takeaway

Based on these cases, attorneys should never assume that a custody order is temporary based solely on the fact that the order is styled as a “temporary” order. These cases make clear that there’s more to the analysis than simply what the order is styled.  Sometimes, it might not be entirely clear to counsel whether or not a custody order constitutes a “final order[] awarding custody.”  In those situations, the best course of action is probably to file a notice of appeal as a precaution.  Otherwise, the attorney risks allowing what appears to be a temporary order become a permanent, nonappealable order.

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