Termination of Parental Rights (Severance): A.R.S. 8-533
Family law cases are often the most emotionally challenging in the legal field, with cases involving children being among the most difficult. When a biological parent demonstrates an inability to care for their child, they may find their parental rights being terminated through a process known as “severance.”
When a parent’s parents parental rights are severed, they don’t merely lose custody of, or parenting time with, their child. Rather, their parental rights become permanently terminated in entirety. Consequently, severance trials are often long and grueling as courts work to determine the best outcome for the child.
Arizona law allows for any person or agency that has a legitimate interest in the welfare of a child, such as a relative, foster parent, physician, the department, or a private licensed child welfare agency to file a petition for the termination of the parent-child relationship. According to A.R.S. 8-533, sufficient evidence to justify this termination must include one of the following:
- The parent has abandoned the child.
- The parent has neglected or willfully abused the child, including serious physical or emotional injury or situations in which the parent knew or reasonably should have known that a person was abusing or neglecting a child.
- The parent is unable to discharge parental responsibilities because of mental illness, mental deficiency, or a history of chronic abuse of dangerous drugs, controlled substances or alcohol and there are reasonable grounds to believe that the condition will continue for a prolonged indeterminate period.
- The parent is deprived of civil liberties due to the conviction of a felony if the felony of which that parent was convicted is of such nature as to prove the unfitness of that parent to have future custody and control of the child, including murder of another child of the parent, manslaughter of another child of the parent or aiding or abetting or attempting, conspiring or soliciting to commit murder or manslaughter of another child of the parent, or if the sentence of that parent is of such length that the child will be deprived of a normal home for a period of years.
- The potential father failed to file a paternity action within 30 days of completion of service of notice.
- The putative (reputed) father failed to file a notice of claim of paternity.
- The parents have relinquished their rights of the child to an agency or have consented to adoption.
- The child is being cared for in an out-of-home placement under the supervision of the juvenile court, the division, or a licensed child welfare agency, that the agency responsible for the care of the child has made a diligent effort to provide appropriate reunification services and that one of the following circumstances exists:
- The child has been in an out-of-home placement for a cumulative total period of nine months or longer pursuant to court order or voluntary placement pursuant to law and the parent has substantially neglected or willfully refused to remedy the circumstances that cause the child to be in an out-of-home placement.
- The child who is under three years of age has been in an out-of-home placement for a cumulative total period of six months or longer pursuant to court order and the parent has substantially neglected or willfully refused to remedy the circumstances that cause the child to be in an out-of-home placement, including refusal to participate in reunification services offered by the department.
- The child has been in an out-of-home placement for a cumulative total period of fifteen months or longer pursuant to court order or voluntary placement pursuant to law, the parent has been unable to remedy the circumstances that cause the child to be in an out-of-home placement and there is a substantial likelihood that the parent will not be capable of exercising proper and effective parental care and control in the near future.
- The identity of the parent is unknown and continues to be unknown following three months of diligent efforts to identify and locate the parent.
- The parent has had parental rights to another child terminated within the preceding two years for the same cause and is currently unable to discharge parental responsibilities due to the same cause.
- All of the following are true:
- The child was cared for in an out-of-home placement pursuant to court order.
- The agency responsible for the care of the child made diligent efforts to provide appropriate reunification services.
- The child, pursuant to court order, was returned to the legal custody of the parent from whom the child had been removed.
- Within eighteen months after the child was returned, pursuant to court order, the child was removed from that parent’s legal custody, the child is being cared for in an out-of-home placement under the supervision of the juvenile court, the division or a licensed child welfare agency and the parent is currently unable to discharge parental responsibilities.
- Clear and convincing evidence that the parent committed a sexual assault against the petitioning parent and the child was conceived as a result of the sexual assault. If the parent who is the subject of the petition pleads guilty to or is convicted of a violation of these laws or a violation of an offense in another jurisdiction that if committed in this state would be a violation of such, the court may accept the guilty plea or conviction as evidence that the child was conceived as a result of a sexual assault by that parent.
When ruling on severance cases, the court will look to see whether one of the above grounds has been met. At that point, the court will then move onto the second prong in a severance case, which is to determine whether severance is in the best interest of the child. Specifically, the court will look to see whether severance will bring an affirmative benefit to, or the removal of a detriment from, the child’s life.
Other Considerations of the Court in Severance Cases
In addition to the sufficient grounds and best interest prongs used as evidence for a termination of parental rights, the court will also consider:
- Any substantiated allegations of abuse or neglect committed in another jurisdiction.
- The availability of reunification services to the parent and the participation of the parent in these services.
The court will not consider the first 60 days of the child’s initial out-of-home placement.
The failure of an alleged, but not legal, parent to take a department-requested or court-ordered test to determine if they are the child’s natural parent is considered prima facie evidence of abandonment unless good cause for the failure is shown by the alleged parent.
Rideout Law Group handles cases throughout the entire state of Arizona, with offices located in Scottsdale and Lake Havasu City. Our attorneys are experienced in handling severance cases. For a free consultation, call 480-584-3328.