Termination of Parental Rights

Before an adoption can occur, the legal parents’ parental rights must be terminated if they are unable or unwilling to sign a consent for the adoption. Filing Petitions to Terminate Parental Rights is a significant part of our practice. We do this for many different types of cases. Two common examples are (1) to facilitate the adoption of a newborn in a private placement when the child is being placed out of state, and (2) to terminate an absent parent’s rights to free the child for adoption by a stepparent or a grandparent. There are other scenarios where this type of case is also needed.
Common reasons for termination of parental rights (i.e., a severance matter) are abandonment, abuse or neglect, significant substance or alcohol abuse, significant mental illness that prevents a parent from normal parental duties, or long periods of incarceration for a felony. Pursuant to Arizona law, “Any person… that has a legitimate interest in the welfare of a child…may file a petition for termination of the parent-child relationship alleging grounds continued in subsection B of this section.” A.R.S. §8-533(A).
At least one of the grounds for termination found in A.R.S. §8-533(B) must be proven by clear and convincing evidence. Additionally, the petitioner must also prove that the termination of parental rights is in the best interests of the child, by a preponderance of the evidence. A.R.S. §8-533(B). Proving one of the grounds (i.e. abandonment) requires very different evidence than what is required to prove that the termination is in the child’s best interests. Sometimes what the Court is looking for in the evidence to find that the termination is in the child’s best interest is very different than what the petitioner believes is sufficient to show best interests. Additionally, because the judges have a lot of discretion in making their findings, it is important to hire an attorney who is familiar with the local juvenile court judges and what they are looking for in these cases.
These are difficult and highly technical cases, and many of the clients that want to terminate parental rights do not know what evidence would be relevant to such a proceeding. Speaking to an attorney experienced in termination proceedings prior to filing a severance petition can save significant time and expense.


Private Dependencies

Friends and relatives are often left caring for the children of family or loved ones with no legal means to care for them. Depending on the circumstances, a private dependency or guardianship may be the proper legal mechanism to ensure that caregivers have the legal ability to care for a child or children in their care.

A common reason to file a private dependency is when the client believes a child is in danger of abuse or neglect and the client feels that making a report to the Department of Child Safety (“DCS”) has not caused them to step in and take protective action. A private dependency can permit a family member or friend to step in and take protective action for a child or children unable to protect themselves.

We have the expertise and skill necessary to help you decide if a private dependency is the right legal option to help you protect and care for a child or children in need.

Adopting a Child in a Dependency

Dependency cases are a major component of adoption law because they are frequently a precursor to adoptions. Dependency cases are also complex and specialized cases that involve DCS, numerous attorneys, frequent court hearings, and in some instances, trials. We help our clients navigate these confusing and frustrating cases.
A dependency is a case centered on a child who is a ward of the Court and is, therefore, dependent on the State of Arizona for protection because remaining in the care of a parent or guardian would “create a substantial risk of harm to the child’s physical, mental or emotional health or safety.” A.R.S. § 8-861.

Arizona Revised Statutes define a “Dependent Child” as a child who is adjudicated to be:
“In need of proper and effective parental care and control and who has no parent or guardian, or one who has no parent or guardian willing to exercise or capable of exercising such care and control.”
“Destitute or who is not provided with the necessities of life, including adequate food, clothing, shelter or medical care.”

“A child whose home is unfit by reason of abuse, neglect, cruelty or depravity by a parent, a guardian or any other person having custody or care of the child.”

Most dependency cases, although not private dependencies, start with an employee of DCS taking temporary custody of a child. The temporary custody statute, A.R.S. § 8-821(A), requires that there are reasonable grounds to believe that temporary custody is necessary to protect the child from abuse or neglect. The standard of evidence for temporary custody hearings is probable cause. A.R.S. § 8-824(F). Although the initial temporary custody finding is granted ex parte, DCS is required to file a dependency petition within 72 hours of taking temporary custody. A.R.S. § 8-821(F).

Most dependency cases are filed by DCS rather than by private petitioners. These cases are the result of a call to the DCS Hotline by a mandatory reporter such as a police officer, a hospital employee, a teacher, or a doctor. But those calls can be made by family, friends, neighbors, or other non-mandatory persons who choose to report something. Less common are dependency petitions from private petitioners. When a private petitioner files it is because that person is concerned that a child (often who is living with them) would be at a substantial risk of abuse or neglect if returned to a parent and the petitioner chooses to take it upon themselves to file a dependency petition.

Although private dependency petitions should not be used unless necessary to protect a child from abuse or neglect, under the right circumstances a private dependency case provides opportunities for creative solutions to complex family-law problems


In Arizona, the terms used for the different types of Guardianships are very confusing and misleading. We hope this will help you navigate your options.

First, there are two forms of guardianship: Title 14, which are revocable guardianships by consent of the parent, and Title 8, which are more permanent guardianships often resulting from a dependency petition.

At Stuart & Blackwell we have a strong understanding of both forms of guardianships that can be established under Arizona law and we can provide advice and guidance on which form would best suit your needs.

Title 14, Voluntary Guardianships

This can happen in one of two ways. First, the parent or parents can sign a consent to the Guardianship which gets filed with the Court. Second, the petitioner can serve the parent(s) with the Petition and Notice of Hearing. If the parent either chooses not to appear and contest the Guardianship or chooses to appear and consent to it, then the Guardianship can be granted. Even within the Title 14 Guardianship, there are three different types:

  • Emergency Temporary Guardianship: This is the most temporary and can be granted without notice to the parents, but the court will set a hearing and will require Notice of the hearing be served on the parents, unless a consent for the Guardianship can be obtained.
  • Temporary Guardianship: This Guardianship lasts no longer than 6 months. There are no exceptions. This option should ONLY be used if you are sure the parent(s) will be ready and able to provide the care for their children within that timeframe.
  • Permanent Guardianship: This is still voluntary, but will automatically renew each year when the Guardian files an Annual Report with the court. Despite its name, this Guardianship is still temporary in nature because the parents reserve the right to revoke.

In any type of Title 14 Guardianship, the parent(s) reserve the right to revoke the guardianship. To revoke the guardianship the parent must request a hearing and appear before the court. Despite the confusing names, Title 14 guardianships are temporary by design. For grandparents or other family members caring for children on a temporary basis, a Title 14 guardianship provides the caregiver with the ability to enroll a child in school and obtain medical care, health insurance, and public assistance. This type of Guardianship only temporarily infringes on parental rights. This is often a good middle ground for a client (such as grandparent clients) to suggest to their children without alienating them. Another benefit of this option is that the Department of Child Safety (DCS) isn’t involved in the case.

Title 8, Permanent Guardianships
In rare cases, it remains possible for the Court to reconsider, revoke, or amend the permanent guardianship. The parents would have to prove to the Court that they are able to provide for their children’s care and that they are fit and proper to do so. Title 8 guardianships offer a stable placement for children involved in the dependency system, without resulting in the termination of parental rights. However, Title 8 guardianships lack many of the benefits of adoption, such as legal permanency and the child’s eligibility for the Arizona Adoption Subsidy. Guardianship subsidy may be available under a Title 8 guardianship, but at a lower amount than the adoption subsidy.
Stepparent Adoptions
A stepparent adoption refers to the adoption of a child by his or her parent’s spouse to create a legal parent-child relationship. This may also include same-sex couples who are now able to legally adopt a spouse’s child in Arizona. Like relative adoptions, sometimes this happens when the legal or biological parents consent to the adoption and sometimes it is first necessary to file a Termination of Parental Rights case against one or both parents.

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Chandler, Arizona 85248


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