Most cases in which a parent’s parental rights are severed are commenced by DCS (formerly CPS). However, in unusual circumstances, a severance or termination of parental rights case can be commenced by one parent against the other, or by a relative against both parents.
In many cases involving severance or termination of parental rights, the severance is sought so that a step parent may adopt the minor child. In other cases, the severance is requested based upon a complete lack of involvement by one parent in the child’s life.
It is important to understand that severing or terminating a parents rights does not automatically end their parental responsibilities. I have had a few occasions over the years in which a parent asked me to assist them in severing or terminating their own rights, until I explained that they would still be responsible for child support. Once the child is adopted by a step parent, the parental responsibility for payment of child support ceases, but only upon the completion of the adoption.
A.R.S. § 8-533, allows for a termination to be filed by “any person or agency that has a legitimate interest in the welfare of a child, including, but not limited to, a relative, a foster parent, a physician, the department or a private licensed child welfare agency.”
This same section of the statute spells out multiple reasons for which the Court can grant a severance or termination of parental rights after a full consideration of the child’s best interest, which include:
- That the parent has abandoned the child.
- That the parent has neglected or willfully abused a child.
- That the parent is unable to discharge parental responsibilities because of mental illness, mental deficiency or a history of chronic abuse of dangerous drugs, controlled substances or alcohol and there are reasonable grounds to believe that the condition will continue for a prolonged indeterminate period.
- That the parent is deprived of civil liberties due to the conviction of a felony if the felony of which that parent was convicted is of such nature as to prove the unfitness of that parent to have future custody and control of the child, including murder of another child of the parent, manslaughter of another child of the parent or aiding or abetting or attempting, conspiring or soliciting to commit murder or manslaughter of another child of the parent, or if the sentence of that parent is of such length that the child will be deprived of a normal home for a period of years.
- That the parent has had parental rights to another child terminated within the preceding two years for the same cause and is currently unable to discharge parental responsibilities due to the same cause.
Severance or termination of parental rights should not be taken lightly. Once entered, and once the short window for appeal has passed, a termination order is very difficult to later overturn or change.
If you would like to commence a severance or termination case, or if one has been filed against you, or if you are involved in a divorce, legal separation, or annulment case or other family law case, and if you have determined that you need experienced legal representation, please call 800-899-2730 and ask to speak with Douglas C. Gardner, or visit our website at www.yourdivorcelawyer.com.