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.