A parent who abandons, neglects or abuses his child (under age 18) may lose his parental rights. Arizona law sets forth the grounds and the procedure for termination of the parent-child relationship.
Filing a Petition
A petition to terminate the parent-child relationship may be filed with the juvenile division of the superior court by any person who has a legitimate interest in the welfare of the child (under age 18). This would include a relative, a foster parent, a physician, the Department of Economic Security, or a private licensed child welfare agency.
After the petition has been filed, the clerk of the superior court will set a time and place for an initial hearing. Notice of the initial hearing and a copy of the petition must be given to the parents of the child, as well as to the child’s guardian, the person having legal custody of the child, and any person standing in the position of parent to the child. There are other notice requirements for a Native American child. A potential father who fails to file a paternity action within 30 days after receiving legal notice that an adoption proceeding has been commenced, waives his right to notification regarding termination of parental rights and his consent is not required.
If a parent who has received proper notice does not appear at the initial hearing, the court may terminate the parent-child relationship as to that parent. At the initial hearing, the court will schedule a pretrial conference, schedule the termination hearing, and instruct the parents that failure to appear for any scheduled conference or hearing may result in automatic termination of that parent’s rights.
When a petition to terminate a parent-child relationship is filed, the court will usually order that a complete social study be conducted. The social study will include the circumstances of the petition, the social history, the present condition of the child and parent, proposed plans for the child, and any other facts pertinent to the parent-child relationship. The social study must include a recommendation as to whether or not the parent-child relationship should be terminated. The requirement of a social study may be waived if to do so would be in the best interests of the child.
Grounds for Termination
In a contested case, the court will determine at the termination hearing whether grounds exist to terminate the parent-child relationship. The court will consider the social study report, as well as other evidence, in making this determination. In evaluating the evidence, the court will consider the best interests of the child.
The parent-child relationship may be terminated if the court finds that the parent has abandoned the child. “Abandonment” means the failure of a parent to provide reasonable support and to maintain regular contact with the child, including providing normal supervision. The court must find that a parent has made only minimal efforts to support and communicate with the child. Failure to maintain a normal relationship with the child without good cause for a period of six months constitutes prima facie evidence of abandonment.
A parent’s rights may also be terminated if the parent has neglected or wilfully abused a child. This abuse includes serious physical or emotional injury, or situations in which the parent knew (or should have known) that a person was abusing or neglecting a child.
It is also reason for termination that the parent is unable to discharge his parental responsibilities because of mental illness or chronic drug or alcohol abuse, and there are reasonable grounds to believe that the condition will continue for an indefinite period of time.
Other grounds for termination include a parent’s conviction of a serious felony or prison sentence for a period of years; a father’s failure to pursue paternity; a parent’s relinquishment of rights or consent to adoption; prolonged or repeated out-of-home placements; unknown identity of the parent; and another termination within two years, coupled with that parent’s inability to discharge parental responsibilities for the same reason. In considering grounds for termination, the court will take into account any substantiated allegations of abuse or neglect committed in another state.
If the court terminates the parent-child relationship, it will appoint a guardian for the child and make an order fixing responsibility for the child’s support. The parent-child relationship may be terminated with respect to one parent without affecting the relationship between the child and the other parent.
An order terminating the parent-child relationship divests the parent and the child of all rights, privileges and duties with respect to each other, except the right of the child to inherit and receive support from the parent. The right of inheritance and support can only be terminated by an order of adoption. Until then, the child retains the right of inheritance from the parents, and the parents remain individually responsible for the support of the child.
All files, records, reports and other papers relating to a termination proceeding are withheld from public inspection.
The above article is an excerpt from Arizona Laws 101: A Handbook for Non-Lawyers, 2nd Edition (Fenestra Books, 2012), by Donald A. Loose, republished with the author’s permission.
Disclaimer: Laws change constantly. Specific legal advice should be obtained regarding any legal matter. The information contained on this website does not constitute legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is created.
Don likes to target shoot, scuba dive, and pilot airplanes. Most recently, he has been working on his golf handicap. Don enjoys writing, reading, and spending time with his wife, twin sons, and golden retriever, Lucy.