Supreme Court Decides on Family Reunification at the Discretion of DES

A recent ruling by the Arizona Supreme Court will have an effect on the reunification of families in the state.  The Supreme Court has held that the Department of Economic Security (DES) does not have the ability to decide when children should be reunified with their parents.

This decision stems from a 2012 case where four children were removed from their home and taken into state custody by DES.  DES found that the children were being neglected by their parents who were methamphetamine users.  The next year, DES wanted the ability to reunify the children with their parents when they believed it was appropriate.  The attorney for the children claimed that a hearing was required to decide whether reunification would pose a substantial risk of harm to the children.  

The dispute ended up in juvenile court and the judge decided for DES.  The judge found that DES had the ability to reunify the children with their parents at such time that they believed it was appropriate.  One reason for this finding was that the parents had been benefiting from certain state services that would limit the risk to the children.  As long as the parents remained recipients of these services, the court decided the children would not be at any substantial risk of harm.

On appeal, it was found that Arizona state law gives DES the ability to decide whether children should be reunified with their parents but that they cannot place children with parents that are neglectful or abusive.  In this case, the children were neglected by both parents.  

State law also requires that a hearing be held by a judge to determine whether reunification is in the child’s best interest with regard to their safety and health.  In this case, no hearing was held.  The judge effectively delegated his decision making duty to DES.  The Arizona Supreme Court found that because this is part of a judge’s responsibilities, this delegation was improper.

Family law matters can be difficult to understand and emotionally trying.  If you need advice on a child custody matter, call the Phoenix attorneys at Cohen Family Law at (602)714-8898.