Termination of Parental Rights in Arizona
Termination of parental rights refers to the permanent termination of a parent’s legal rights, privileges, duties, and obligations to their child. When a child’s well-being is in jeopardy, anyone close to the child can petition the court to terminate parental rights. The petitioner can be anyone with a ‘legitimate interest in the welfare of the child’, including a relative, a physician, or a private agency. In most cases, a petitioner takes the critical step to protect the child’s safety.
Whether voluntary or involuntary, termination of parental rights can be difficult, complex, and emotional for all parties, including petitioners and the parents. Accordingly, it is advisable to seek the help of a skilled and experienced family law attorney when taking this important step. Contact our family law attorneys at R.P.M. Law if you are in Arizona. We are committed to helping you navigate the often rare and complex legal process of termination of parental rights.
Voluntary vs Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights
In Arizona and most American states, a parent can voluntarily terminate their parental rights. For instance, a non-custodial parent can choose to voluntarily relinquish their parental rights when the custodial parent, the one who has sole legal decision-making authority, marry someone who seeks to adopt their child.
Parents can also voluntarily terminate their rights when they place their child for adoption. However, a parent cannot just terminate their rights because they want to avoid parental obligations, including child support. There has to be another adult willing to take on the parental obligations for the court to approve a voluntary termination of parental rights.
On the other hand, involuntary termination of parental rights is a court-ordered action outlined in Arizona Revised Statute (A.R.S.) 8-533(B).
Grounds for Parental Rights Termination in Arizona
Even though a person or an agency can petition the court to terminate parental rights, the court can only do so with the necessary statutory authority. In Arizona, A.R.S. 8-533(B) outlines several reasons or grounds for termination of parental rights, including:
- Abandonment – where a parent abandons their child.
- Domestic/parental abuse or neglect
- The parent has mental health issues and is not likely to change or get better in the foreseeable future.
- The parent has a history of substance abuse that will likely last indefinitely.
- Incarceration of the parent, especially where it makes them unfit for parenting, or the sentence is likely to deprive the child of a normal home for years.
- The parent’s identity is unknown even after three months of persistently trying to identify and locate them.
- Failure by the supposed or “putative” father to file a paternity claim in time.
- Adoption – where parents give up their parental rights to another person or an adoption agency
- Parents have failed to resolve a placement situation that has led to their child being in an out-of-home placement for a long time.
- The parent has had their rights to another child terminated within the previous two years and cannot perform their parental responsibilities for the same reason.
Notably, these grounds for termination mainly apply to involuntary termination of parental rights. However, the above circumstances do not automatically terminate a parent’s rights and responsibilities. Rather, they serve as reasons for a petitioner to petition the court to terminate parental rights. Essentially, it is for the court to determine whether terminating parental rights would be in the child’s best interests.
Terminating Parental Rights
Even though termination of parental rights and loss of child custody are related terms, they are not necessarily similar. Primarily, custody refers to legal decision making powers and parenting time, meaning a parent can lose custody while still retaining some parental rights. While an ideal situation is where both parents reasonably support the child, there are situations where the court can limit a parent’s legal rights, including visitation, communication and decision making.
Unlike child custody, termination of parental rights involves the court severing the legal parent-child relationship. Essentially, both the parent and the child lose visitation and communication rights. The parent also loses the right to make important decisions for the child, including healthcare, religion, and schooling.
Similarly, the parent is no longer required to pay child support as the obligation to provide reasonable support passes to the new adoptive parent. Where a child is a ward of the state, the responsibility passes to the state.
A Special Consideration: Terminating Both Parents’ Rights
In Arizona, the court is likely to be reluctant to terminate the parental rights of both parents, considering the complexity and dynamic nature of the situation. However, some circumstances may warrant the termination of rights for both parents, especially if it is in the child’s best interests.
For instance, the court may consider this type of termination where a person or agency caring for a child in an out-of-home placement repeatedly fail in their efforts to reunite the child with their parents, especially in the following situations:
- The child has been in placement for at least nine months, and the parent has willfully failed to address the concerns that have necessitated the out-of-home placement.
- The child is three or younger and has been in placement for at least six months. Accordingly, the parent has willfully failed or made it difficult for other agencies to fix the issues that cause the out-of-home placement, including refusing to participate in the state’s reunification efforts.
- The child has been in placement for 15 months or more, and the parent has demonstrated an inability to resolve the issues that necessitate the out-of-home placement. In such instances, the court can reasonably assume that the parent is incapable of performing their parental responsibilities in the foreseeable future.
Contact an Arizona Family Law Attorney
Whether you are a petitioner or a parent fighting the potential loss of your rights, you need to understand the law. Even though the termination of parental rights legal process is confusing and emotional, a skilled family law attorney can help you. Our experienced and skilled family law attorneys at R.P.M. Law are committed to walking with you every step of the legal process while helping you get the outcome you want and deserve. Contact our offices to schedule a free consultation and learn more about our services.
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