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In Arizona, parental rights may be terminated by consent or by court order. In either case, the court will only approve the action when doing so is in the best interests of the child. Furthermore, it’s important to note that terminating parental rights may not eliminate a parent’s child support obligation, as parental rights primarily relate to parenting time and legal decision-making.
If you are looking for legal representation to terminate your parental rights and move them to another family member, please contact our family law team. You can give us a call at (480) 467-4348 or fill out a form online.
Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights
Arizona law clearly states that parents have a natural right to parenting time, legal decision-making, visitation, and communication with their child. Parents also have an obligation to pay child support, which is entirely separate from parental rights.
A parent has the right to request that his or her parental rights be terminated, but it takes a court order to approve the termination of parental rights in Arizona. There’s no hard-and-fast rule for approvals, but there are three situations that may result in a judge’s stamp of approval:
- When there is a family member who is willing to adopt the child – this is often referred to as “signing over” your parental rights. In most cases, the family member is the custodial parent’s new spouse or partner. In other cases, it may be a parent, grandparent, sibling, or extended family member. The family relationship isn’t actually that important—what’s important is that he or she must be willing to legally adopt the child, not just take the child temporarily. Also, the family member must be better equipped to care for the needs of the child, so that the adoption is in the child’s best interests.
- When a third party wishes to adopt the child – this scenario often occurs when a child is placed in foster care due to both parents’ inability to care for the child. Whether the adoptive parents are family members or an unrelated third party, the rules are the same—he or she must legally adopt the child and assume all of the associated rights and obligations. In this case it’s assumed that the adoption would be in the child’s best interests, as an adoption is always better than remaining in foster care.
- When the custodial parent signs an agreement of consent – while it’s safe to say that judges are extremely reluctant to grant voluntary termination of parental rights when there isn’t another party willing to adopt the child, there may be an exception if the custodial parent is willing and able to support and care for the child on their own. These cases are relatively rare, but they’re certainly possible.
If you believe it’s in your child’s best interests to sign over your parental rights to a family member, the first step is to consult with a family law attorney. With your attorney’s assistance, you can file a motion for termination of parental rights in conjunction with the family member’s adoption request.
Keep in mind, however, that you cannot regain your parental rights once they have been terminated. Should you change your mind down the road and decide that you want to regain custody of your child, you would need to legally adopt the child, and the family member with custody of the child would need to sign their parental rights over to you. This can be extremely difficult to do when you previously convinced a judge that you’re unfit to care for the child.
If you are unable to care for your child right now but do not want to permanently lose custody of your child, speak with an attorney about appointing a family member to serve as the child’s guardian. A legal guardian can take custody of the child, and will have all of the necessary rights, privileges, and obligations to care for them until you are fit to resume caring for the child down the road.
Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights
Most of the time, termination of parental rights is done involuntarily by court order (meaning the parent objects or cannot be found). In these cases, the court is forced to take immediate action to protect the child and ensure they are properly cared and provided for.
In Arizona, there are 11 circumstances that can lead to involuntary termination of parental rights:
- When a parent abandons their child
- When a parent fails to support or maintain contact with the child
- When a parent abuses or neglects their child
- When a parent sexually abuses their child
- When a parent abuses or neglects other children in the household
- When a parent is convicted of a felony, and the prison sentence will deprive the child of a normal home for a period of years
- When a parent involuntarily loses parental rights to another child
- When a parent has a history of drug use, chronic alcohol abuse, mental deficiency, or mental illness, and the court can reasonably assume the issue will continue long-term
- When the parent’s identity is unknown, and remains unknown after three months of diligent efforts to identify and locate the parent
- When the parent has already relinquished their rights to a child to a state agency, or have consented to an adoption
- When a potential father receives a notice of planned adoption and he fails to file a paternity action within 30 days
- When a putative father fails to file a notice of claim of paternity
If the state moves to terminate your parental rights based on one of these conditions, you will need to work with an experienced family law attorney to defend your parental rights. In many cases, there are ways to ensure that the child’s best interests are preserved without stripping you of your parental rights.
Termination of Parental rights and Child support
Parental rights and a parent’s obligation to pay child support are two separate matters. Failure to pay child support doesn’t automatically result in a parent losing their parental rights, and the termination of a parent’s rights doesn’t automatically mean that his or her child support obligation is also terminated. It’s possible to terminate both, but only when doing so is in the best interests of the child.
Generally speaking, a judge will only remove a child support order under two conditions:
- The adoptive parents are willing to accept financial responsibility for the child, or
- The non-custodial parent reaches an agreement to settle future child support payments with a lump-sum payment, and the court can be assured this amount will be enough to support the child
If a judge rescinds a child support order and removes the obligation to pay child support going forward, the order only applies to future child support payments—it does not eliminate unpaid child support. Any child support arrears would still need to be collected or settled with the state, or you will be subject to child support enforcement remedies.