Terminating parental rights, whether voluntary or involuntary, is a painful and complicated situation. Here’s what you need to understand about termination of parental rights in Arizona.
Disclaimer: Please note that this article is not intended to be legal advice. You should always talk to an attorney who is skilled at family law about your unique situation.
What Does Termination of Parental Rights in Arizona Mean?
Termination of parental rights in Arizona by definition is not the same thing as losing custody of your child(ren). Custody is a word for what is legally recognized as legal decision-making and parenting time. A parent can “lose custody” and still keep their basic parental rights.
Termination of parental rights sometimes referred to as severance of parental rights. Termination or severance means to end the legal rights, duties, privileges, and responsibilities between a parent and their child(ren) permanently.
Someone with “legitimate interest in the welfare of the child” can petition to terminate parental rights (Title 8-533). There are a number of cases in the Arizona Court of Appeals that address the steps that must be taken before a parent’s rights can be severed involuntarily or without the parent’s consent. These are the cases where we most want to see people who are locked in a severance dispute have the assistance of a lawyer.
What are the Grounds for Termination of Parental Rights in Arizona?
A person can seek to terminate the rights of a parent for any of these reasons:
- Neglect or domestic abuse
- Drug and/or alcohol abuse by the parent
- Incarceration of the parent
- Mental health issues
- Other good cause, like failure to maintain a normal parent-child relationship for a specific period of time.
Other reasons are defined by Arizona statute Title 8-533. But the practical application becomes very tricky and varies from case to case.
Abandonment, defined by Arizona law (Title 8-531), is when a parent fails to provide acceptable support and keep in regular contact with the child(ren).
Voluntary vs. Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights
A parent can decide to voluntarily terminate their parental rights in Arizona. A non-custodial parent can voluntarily terminate their parental rights. A single parent with full legal decision-making rights can marry someone who wants to adopt their child(ren). Parents who want to give their child up for adoption may also terminate their parental rights voluntarily.
We have had one successful case where a client gave up rights, but then reinstated those rights. It is possible, but there has to be strong legal or public policy ground. The courts believe there is a great interest in the finality of a judgment, and that includes the termination of a parent’s rights.
A motion for termination of parental rights involuntarily in Arizona is made to the court based on any number of reasons.
How to Terminate Parental Rights in Arizona
You can find instructions and the necessary forms on the Maricopa County website. Nevertheless, severance of parental rights is an emotional and complicated process that should not be attempted without a lawyer.
With evidence provided by each side, the court determines what is in the best interest of the child(ren). The burden of proof is on the person pursuing the termination (the petitioner). A lawyer can help with the process, filing the proper paperwork and assisting the petitioner in gathering evidence to back up their claim.
The petitioner is required to take the following steps to involuntarily terminate parental rights in Arizona.
- File a Petition for Termination of Parent-Child(ren) Relationship
The petition needs to prove that the petitioner shows interest in the welfare of the child(ren). It must also give a reason for pursuing the termination. The petitioner needs to also designate who will perform the social study required by Title 8-536 (or petition to bypass the need for that study).
- Obtain an Order from the Court to set an Initial Hearing
After the court goes over the initial paperwork, they may dismiss the case if they cannot find a cause for termination. If this happens, the petitioner can re-file after the information is corrected. If the court doesn’t dismiss the case, an initial hearing will be ordered.
- Obtain a Notice of Initial Hearing
This notice will include the time, date, place, and where the initial hearing will be held. The clerk will also offer any other essential information required in the notice.
- Gather the Needed Paperwork
The petitioner must make copies of the petition and any information concerning the initial hearing for all parties involved. This includes any guardian ad litem, any tribal associations, and other custodians.
- Serve the Paperwork
The petitioner is required to serve the paperwork to the parties interested. This needs happen at least 10 days before the initial hearing for people in Arizona and a minimum of 30 days for people outside Arizona.
- Attend the Initial Hearing
The judge will listen to the evidence presented for the termination of parental rights.
If the judge awards a petitioner’s request, the termination becomes effective.
How to Voluntarily Terminate Parental Rights in Arizona
Voluntary termination of parental rights in Arizona is commonly called severance. The most typical reason is for the intent of adoption. A parent terminating their rights voluntarily will create a consent form. This form needs to include the following:
- The terminating parent’s name, date of birth, address, and relationship to the child(ren)
- The child(ren)’s name, date of birth, and their last known address
- The name and address of the agency or individual the rights are going to be relinquished to
- A statement that recognizes the repercussions of voluntary termination (Title 8-117)
- Another statement that recognizes the understanding that relinquishing rights is irreversible unless granted under coercion or fraud (Title 8-106)
- And a final statement recognizing that the relinquishing parent has read and understands Title 8-114 and hasn’t been compensated directly or indirectly
After the relinquishing parent signs the form in front of a notary, it can be filed within juvenile court in the relinquishing parent’s county.
Other Factors of Termination of Parental Rights in Arizona
A lot of these cases are complicated, and we always recommend obtaining counsel whether you are defending or seeking a severance. Here are some other aspects of parental rights termination that may come up.
How to Handle Reinstatement of Parental Rights in Arizona
In a few cases, it is feasible to reinstate parental rights. For example, every now and then a child goes into foster care after termination of parental rights but can’t find a foster home. In these cases, a parent might be able to appeal for reinstatement if their situation is adequate.
How to Fight Termination of Parental Rights
Fighting termination of parental rights involves a comprehensive understanding of the law. If you are at risk of losing your parental rights, an attorney can help you in understanding your rights and the process.
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