Terminating Parental Rights

Terminating Parental Rights

TERMINATING PARENTAL RIGHTS- Parental rights and child welfare policy in the United States has transitioned many times between a focus on the maintaining the relationship between parents and children as the primary goal to ensuring children do not remain in abusive homes. The Supreme Court first recognized parental rights in 1923 and has continued to recognize the rights of parents in various cases. In addition to the federal and state law changes, policy changes have affected how the law treats parental rights.


As related to child welfare policy, terminating parental rights came into focus in the 1970s. At that time, children were placed into foster care and often remained there for a number of years because of a reluctance to terminate parental rights. Starting in the 1980s, many rules were put in place for foster care that focused on reunifying families when possible and reduced time spent in foster care. Then in 1993, the passage of the Family Preservation and Family Support Act focused on preserving parental rights. As criticism of this policy shift grew, another shift occurred that focused on safety for children at risk along with the possibility of quickly terminating parental rights under certain circumstances. (Freundlich, 1999)


In Arizona, state law governs the termination of parental rights. A parent may voluntarily give up their parental rights. One example might be where the parents are not married and the primary legal decision making parent remarries and wishes to have the new spouse legally adopt the child. Another common scenario is when the birth parents have decided to place a baby up for adoption. When a baby is placed for adoption the birth parents terminate their parental rights so that the child can be legally adopted. There are also provisions for involuntary termination of parental rights in the Arizona Revised Statutes. The parent-child relationship is defined in Arizona law as including “all rights, privileges, duties and obligations existing between parent and child, including inheritance rights.”


TERMINATING PARENTAL RIGHTS- Who can petition to terminate parental rights?

Any person or agency that has a legitimate interest in the welfare of a child can petition to terminate parental rights. This includes, but is not limited to a relative, a foster parent, a physician, the department of economic security or a private licensed child welfare agency. ARS 8-533(A)


What are the grounds for terminating parental rights?

When terminating parental rights, the petition must give information that would be the basis for termination. Arizona law states that the court considers the information submitted in the petition, as well as the best interests of the child. ARS 8-533(B) lists eleven possible grounds for termination of parental rights. These include, but are not limited to abandonment, neglect or abuse, mental illness or chronic abuse of drugs or alcohol, parent(s) have relinquished rights to a child to an agency or have consented to adoption, or being placed in out-of-home care for a specified period of time depending on the age of the child.


When filing the petition for termination of parental rights you must include certain information.

The type of information required in the petition includes, your information and residence, the name of the child, date and place of birth, sex and where they are currently living. You need to include the basis for the court’s jurisdiction to terminate parental rights as well as your relationship to the child. We include the names, addresses and dates of birth of the parents if that is known. If the parents are not guardians or do not have legal custody, information should be included about who is providing care for the child. You are also required to include the grounds for termination of parental rights. And finally, if possible, the birth parents are asked to notarize a statement that either allows or denies the child the right to review adoption records when the child turns 21.


After the petition has been filed, the clerk of the superior court sets a time and place for the initial hearing. Notice of the hearing is also given to any other parties, such as the parents, guardians, and if the child is a member of a Indian tribe, additional notice to the tribe is required. The notice lets all parties know that they have a right to appear at any of the proceedings. The notice also lets the parent(s) of the child know that failure to appear at the initial hearing, the pretrial conference, the status conference or the termination adjudication hearing may result in a decision by the court to terminate parental rights. A parent can waive their right to appear before court in writing.


At the initial hearing, the court schedules a pretrial conference or status conference as well as schedules the termination hearing. It is also possible that the court can appoint what is called a guardian ad litem if it is decided by the court that one of parties (such as a parent) is not mentally competent. At the time of filing, the court will also order a complete social study that will be submitted in writing to the court. The social study includes the circumstances of the petition, the social history, the present condition of the child and parent, proposed plans for the child and other facts pertinent to the parent-child relationship. The report will also include a recommendation and the reasons why parental rights should or should not be termination. Arizona also states that the court may waive the requirement of the social study if the court finds that it is in the best interest of the child.


If a parent contests or opposes the termination of parental rights, there is a termination adjudication hearing. This hearing is closed to the public. The decision of the court to terminate parental rights is based on clear and convincing evidence. (ARS 8-537) If the court decides to terminate parental rights it can take one of several actions. It can appoint an individual as guardian of the child. It can appoint an individual as the child’s guardian and give legal custody to another individual or authorized agency. The other part of Arizona law is that 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 that terminates the parent-child relationship severs the legal rights, privileges, duties and obligations with respect to the parent and child, except the right of inheritance and support from the parent. The right to inherit and to receive child support from the parents is only terminated by a final order of adoption.


AZ Statewide Paralegal no longer prepares Petitions to Terminate Parental Rights as an effective legal argument must be made with a licensed attorney in order to ensure success with your type of case. Please contact a family law attorney in your area.


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