Termination of Parental Rights

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Termination of Parental Rights in Phoenix, AZ 

Sadly, there are oftentimes situations with children that require parental rights to be terminated. This can happen outside of DCS (commonly referred to as CPS) intervention but often happens with their intervention.

Whether you find yourself seeking termination of parental rights of a parent with the goal of adoption or you are in a position where you need a strong defense of your parental rights, the Law Office of Justin Fernstrom PLLC is extremely experienced and qualified to assist you.  Justin has been seeking the termination of parental rights and also defending parents in these cases for over a decade. 

What Are the Laws Related to Terminating Parental Rights in the State of Arizona?  

Under Arizona law, children are entitled to have their basic needs for safety and care met by their parents. Arizona’s Title 8 laws govern when and how you can terminate parental rights and the overarching concern of the court in all of these situations is the best interests of the child. The court is charged with the duty to do what they feel is going to serve the best interests of the child or prevent the child from suffering a detriment. Often times DCS/CPS is involved in termination of parental rights cases where abuse and neglect are occurring, but sometimes private parties seek to do so to try and protect a loved one or even adopt them. 

Terminating Parental Rights for Adoption 

Before a child can be adopted, they need to be legally free of all other parental rights in order to be adopted. Even in situations when an adoption is planned, and the parents are voluntarily allowing that process to go forward, the court will usually terminate parental rights at or before the adoption hearing. 

Terminating parental rights is a significant court action and it affects the constitutional rights of the parents, so it is not meant to be an easy process. You need to be sure this is handled correctly prior to finalizing any adoption, as mistakes that are made at this stage can leave your adoption open to being undone in some circumstances. 

Terminating Parental Rights when DCS/CPS is Involved 

DCS/CPS is charged with protecting children in our community that cannot protect themselves. DCS/CPS gets involved when there are allegations of abuse or neglect of children by their parents, guardians, or caregivers. The definition of abuse or neglect is quite broad and most people are surprised at how hard DCS/CPS will come down on them for behaviors they do not associate as abusive or neglectful. DCS/CPS in Arizona is quite aggressive and cases that they are involved in have a high percentage that result in the termination of parental rights and the eventual adoption of those children by relatives or foster placements. 

This step must be taken before you can apply to foster or adopt a child, even if the child is part of your extended family. Working with a skilled and compassionate legal professional can help make this process one that is much easier to understand and navigate. 

What Are the Grounds for Terminating Parental Rights?  

There are various reasons that parental rights might be terminated in the state of Arizona, such as: 

  • Abandonment of the child 
  • Mental health issues that prevent the parent from caring for the child 
  • Substance abuse by parents 
  • Domestic abuse or neglect of the child 
  • Incarceration of the child’s parent 
  • Adoption of the child 
  • The potential father has failed to file a paternity action within the allotted time frame 
  • The father has failed to respond to requests to verify that they are the putative parent of a child 
  • The identity of the parent is unknown after three months of effort to find the child 

The parent has had legal parenting rights to another child terminated within two years for the same reasons 

Terminating the parental rights of a parent is the termination of a constitutional right so it is not something that the courts take lightly. Sadly, when a parent has been unable to fix the issues that have caused their children to be taken from their care by DCS/CPS, the termination of parental rights often results in the children being adopted by family or foster placements. 

Does the Court Consider My Child’s Preference When Terminating Parental Rights in Arizona? 

In the state of Arizona, a child’s wishes regarding their placement and adoption will be considered if they are 12 years of age or older. In adoption proceedings specifically, a child over the age of 12 must consent to be adopted otherwise the adoption cannot be completed. One unique situation that doesn’t come up very often is in Arizona, you can actually adopt someone over the age of 18 without the consent of their biological parents (up to age 21). The courts will always consider what is in the child’s best interests in all termination and adoption proceedings.  

That being said, sometimes children are not aware of the difficulties that they might face when living with a parent that is not in a safe and stable living situation, and for children who do not consent to adoption, the court still must consider their wishes but can order the child into a guardianship without the consent of the child. 

This process can be a very confusing one for children when it comes to the termination of parental rights and their eventual adoption. Many children can be very loyal to their parents, even when they are being neglected or mistreated by them. Seeking to terminate parental rights or waiting on parental rights to be terminated for adoption can be hard on everyone involved. 

What is the Process for Termination of Parental Rights in Arizona? 

The first step is to petition the court. When petitioning the court to terminate parental rights, a valid reason must be given. The petitioner needs to note who will be performing the social study; a necessary step in proceeding with the termination. This social study can be waived in some cases, such as when a child is put into the custody of a grandparent or other close family. In other cases where extended family is concerned, but the ties are not as close, there might still be grounds for a social study. 

The court will review the petition and then schedule a hearing. If there are no grounds for the termination of parental rights, the petition is deficient, and/or lacks the proper information, the petition can be denied, you can be ordered to amend, or in some cases, it can be outright dismissed requiring that you re-file it correctly. 

Once the court has reviewed the filings, the court will notify you of the initial hearing date. If you have counsel at that time, you will likely have already started gathering the necessary information for you to prove your case to the court. The court will appoint an attorney for the children involved, no matter their age, and will provisionally appoint an attorney for the parent(s) whose rights are at stake.  

Ultimately, if the parent whose rights are at stake chooses, a trial will be set and the matter will go forward by presenting evidence and witnesses to support each party’s side of the case.  Ultimately the court will have the final say on whether the person seeking the termination has met their burden of proof. 

Termination of parental rights has a very definite and permanent effect. Parental rights, once completely severed, cannot be reinstated and upon adoption, even the connection to extended biological relatives is permanently severed. 

No matter what side you find yourself on, Justin and his team have extensive experience in this area of practice and are prepared to help you navigate this very complex area of the law. 

How Do I Find the Right Attorney to Help With Termination of Parental Rights?  

Finding the right attorney to handle your termination of parental rights case is key. These cases can be complicated, and there is a lot of documentation that must be completed before you even get to trial on them and this all must be done prior to filing for adoption. In circumstances where one or both parents are not contesting the termination of their parental rights, it is still a process that you want solid legal representation on. 

The team at the Law Office of Justin Fernstrom PLLC has extensive experience in the area of termination of parental rights and the eventual adoption of children. We understand the gravity of these situations and they can become quite contested and complicated. One thing that many people do not understand is that any parent whose parental rights are at stake is usually entitled to free legal counsel to assist them in their defense of the termination of their parental rights. If you do not have counsel with you as the petitioner, you face a very difficult battle going up against attorneys on your own with an increased likelihood that you may not prevail. Seeing parents get free legal counsel to assist them while you as the petitioner do not can be quite frustrating but is just one more reason that you should have someone who focuses their practice on this very area of law. Having a skilled attorney on your side can make all the difference when it comes to the termination of parental rights in the state of Arizona. 

Don’t hesitate to reach out to us regarding your case. We have over a decade of experience with these kinds of cases and can provide knowledgeable and seasoned representation for your termination of parental rights case. 

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