While US child welfare and parental rights policy used to concentrate on preserving the parent-child relationship, it now focuses on ensuring that children are removed from situations of abuse and neglect.

Parental rights were first recognized by the Supreme Court in 1923. They continue to be recognized, but there have also been changes in federal and state laws and policies that now affect how the law perceives and treats these rights.

Foster Care

Terminating parents’ rights in relation to child welfare policy was given more attention in the ‘70s. During this time, minor children went into foster care and usually remained there for years to avoid terminating the rights of their parents. In the ‘80s, however, there emerged new rules that focused on reunification and returning custody to their parents, thereby reducing their time in foster care. In 1993, The Family Preservation and Family Support Act, which focused on the preservation of parental rights, was passed. It was greatly criticized and policy shifts once again occurred. This time, the focus was on the safety of at-risk children and terminating parental rights as quickly as possible in certain situations, especially those involving child abuse.

Voluntary Termination

State law governs parental rights termination in Arizona. Termination of parental rights completely ends the relationship between parent and child, which encompasses all privileges, rights and responsibilities, including inheritance rights.

Parents may give up their rights voluntarily. For instance, when the birth parents are unmarried and the primary legal decision-making and custodial parent chooses to remarry and the spouse wants to legally adopt the child, the noncustodial parent may voluntarily terminate his rights.

Another example of voluntary termination of parental rights involves the birth parents placing their baby up for adoption. Putting their child up for adoption effective terminates their rights to the baby.

Petition to Terminate Parental Rights

The Arizona Revised Statutes also includes provisions for involuntary termination of parental rights. For instance, people and agencies with a legitimate interest in the welfare of children can move to have the rights of the parents terminated. The petitioner can be a foster parent, a relative, a doctor, a private licensed child welfare organization, the department of economic security, etc. It’s best to get professional legal services for help in filing a petition. Legal aid ensures taking the correct throughout the process.

Grounds for Termination of Parental Rights

Petitioners must supply information that supports the reason for termination. The family court will make a decision based on the submitted information and the best interests of the child. The law lists the possible grounds for terminating the rights of the parent of the child. Some of them are:

  • Abandonment
  • Neglect
  • Domestic abuse
  • Mental incapacity
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Relinquishment of rights to an agency
  • Consent to give up the child for adoption
  • Placement in out-of-home care for a period of time

How to File a Petition

The petition for termination of parental rights must provide the following information:

  • The petitioner’s personal information and residence.
  • The child’s name, date and place of birth, sex, and current residence.
  • The basis and grounds for termination of parental rights.
  • The petitioner’s relationship to the child.
  • If known, the birth parents’ names, addresses, and birthdates, or, if the parents don’t have child custody, information on current guardianship.
  • If possible, a statement notarized by the birth parents, allowing or denying the child the right to see adoption records upon turning 21.

Notice of the Hearing

Once the petition is filed, the superior court schedules the initial hearing, and notice is given to all involved parties, including the parents, guardians, and, if the child is covered by the Indian Child Welfare Act, the child’s tribe.

The notice informs those involved that they may appear at all of the proceedings. The parents are informed that failure to attend may result in a decision to terminate by the court judge. They may waive their right to attend the proceedings in writing.

The Initial Hearing

The initial hearing usually has the court scheduling the pretrial or status conference and the termination hearing. The court may also appoint a guardian ad litem if one of the parties involved is not mentally competent. There will typically be a court order for a complete social study, which will include:

  • The petition circumstances.
  • The social history as well as the present condition of the child and the parent.
  • The proposed plans and other details relevant to the parent-child relationship.
  • The recommendation to terminate parental rights or not, and the reasons supporting it.

The social study may be waived if the court decides that it is in the best interest of the child.

Opposition from the Parent

There is a termination adjudication hearing if a parent chooses to contest the termination of parental rights. The decision to terminate parental rights may lead to the appointment of a legal guardian for the child, or the appointment of a guardian while granting legal custody to another individual or agency.

The rights of one parent may be terminated without affecting the relationship of the other parent with the child. Meanwhile, termination of the parent-child relationship cuts all legal rights, privileges, obligations, and duties in relation to the parent and child, excluding the right to receive inheritance and support payments from the parent. Adoptions, however, do completely terminate these two rights.

Family Law Attorneys

If you’re a party in a case involving the termination of parental rights, immediately hire a family law attorney to get legal assistance. If you have legal issues concerning family law cases, call us at Zolman Law for experienced legal advice and representation.