Although the relationship between parents and their children is usually considered sacrosanct, there are instances in which the ties between parents and their children may be legally severed. In some cases, when everyone agrees that it is the best option — such as when young, unwed parents consent to give their child up for adoption — the process can go relatively smoothly. Nonetheless, breaking such a strong bond always involves intense conflicting emotions. This is a time when having a well-informed caring family law attorney at your side can make all the difference.
If you reside in Arizona and are dealing with legal problems relative to the severance of parental rights, you should make an appointment for a free consultation with Mitchell E. Cohen of Cohen Family Law, located in Phoenix. Mitchell E. Cohen is an accomplished family law attorney with a track record of positive outcomes. For over 30 years he has been successfully helping clients to untangle the complex legal ramifications of severing parent-child relationships, always doing so with integrity and compassion.
Reasons For Severance of Parental Rights
Parental rights may be severed voluntarily, as in the earlier example, or involuntarily, depending on the situation.
In circumstances in which the biological parents are unable to care for their child, because, for example, they are unwed teenagers, seriously ill or incapacitated, addicted to alcohol or drugs, mentally challenged or impoverished, everyone may agree that severing parental ties is the best solution for the parents as well as the child. In such cases, although legal steps still must be taken, the situation is hopefully not fraught with contention.
Sometimes in these situations, grandparents or other close relatives may adopt the child in question, leaving open the door to future loving contact between the biological parents and the child they have “severed” ties with. In other cases, it is considered best for all concerned that the child be adopted by well-vetted strangers who have the financial and emotional credentials to give the child a good home and promising future. When parents voluntarily surrender their parental rights, they are freed of the responsibility of supporting the child financially. There are also instances in which one parent legally severs ties with his or her child so that the child can be adopted by the new mate of the other parent because this is thought to be the most stable solution for the child. Such a move may take place when the parent severing ties is incarcerated or institutionalized for a lengthy period of time.
Seeking to terminate parental rights without parental consent is, of course, a much more complicated matter, both legally and in terms of emotional turmoil. The state of Arizona, like all states, is very reluctant to sever parental ties unless there is indisputable evidence that such a traumatic move is absolutely necessary for the safety and well-being of the child. In order to initiate such proceedings, the child must be found to be in physical, mental, or emotional danger. Circumstances in which such a decision may be made include:
- Chronic neglect or abuse of the child
- Chronic neglect or abuse of other children in the household
- Abandonment of the child
- Long-term or chronic illness of the parent
- Parental incapacity due to chronic substance abuse
- Conviction of the parent for a felony and/or parental incarceration
- Parent’s failure to prove paternity
- Parental history of sexual abuse
- Mental deficiency/psychiatric illness that prevents the parent from
- Providing adequate childcare
- Unknown identity of the parent after 3 months of diligent searching
- Parental rights to another child have been terminated within the past 2 years
It should be noted that under Arizona law, the failure to pay child support or keep to a predetermined visitation schedule after a divorce is not considered adequate cause for termination of parental rights. Involuntary severance of parental rights is considered a last resort. The court will not permit a petition for severance of parental rights unless all other possible options to maintain the relationship have been exhausted.
In cases of unwed mothers who do not want the father of the child involved in the child’s upbringing, in Arizona the mother is considered the legal custodian of the child until or unless paternity or custody is determined by the court. Nonetheless, in the following situations, the apparent father does have parental rights, unless his death has been verified or his claim to paternity disproved:
- He is married to the mother at the time of conception
- He is named on the birth certificate as the biological father
- He has legally adopted the child
- He has filed a claim as the putative (alleged) father
- Genetic testing has proven, with 95 percent certainty, that he is the father
Special laws apply if the child is, or may be, Native American. In this case, your attorney must consult with the Attorney General’s Office to pursue your case for or against termination of the parent-child relationship because of the requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).
Who is allowed to petition for severance of parental rights?
Under Arizona law, any person with a legitimate interest in the child’s welfare can petition the court to sever parental rights, including:
- The other parent
- Grandparents or other relatives
- Physicians, nurses or other healthcare professionals
- Foster parents
- Arizona Child Protective Services
When abuse or neglect is suspected, the first step is usually a dependency hearing. The child in question is removed from the parent by Arizona Child Protective Services (CPS) and taken into child protective custody. Once the child is in safe hands, CPS investigators will determine whether or not it is safe for the child to return home. Depending on what evidence is discovered, CPS will create a plan considered to be in the best interests of the child. If reports of neglect or abuse are validated, the plan may include petitioning the court for severance of parental rights.
Possible Reinstatement of Parental Rights in Arizona
Under particular circumstances, parental rights may be reinstated. If, for example, a child in state care is not placed with a family within a reasonable period of time, one or both parents can petition for reinstatement of their parental rights. The parents must, however, be able to prove that the child they reclaim will now be living in a safe environment.
It is also possible if one parent has had his or her parental rights terminated that those rights can be reinstated. This may occur if that parent has successfully undergone a rehabilitation program for substance abuse and has now been in recovery for a substantial period of time. If the parent who has lost parental rights can prove that he or she is now able to provide a stable, loving environment for the child, petitioning the court to reinstate parental rights may be a viable option.
Contact Our Phoenix Severance of Parental Rights Attorney
As you can see, a good many factors enter into the issue of severance of parental rights. Whatever role you are playing in this stressful drama, the counsel of a skilled and compassionate family law attorney can ease the situation. Navigating the legal system is never simple; when the safety and happiness of a child are at stake, it can seem completely overwhelming. Your own sense of responsibility and emotional connection can cloud your thinking. This is when Mitchell E. Cohen’s legal services can help you through the turbulence and uncertainty. Why not call our office or fill out a contact form on our website? Remember — the initial consultation is free.