by Marty J. Zalevsky
This month the Arizona Supreme Court upheld a juvenile court’s severance of a parent’s rights in a case where the allegation against the parent was his failure to register “a claim” with a scarcely known list maintained by the Arizona Department of Health Services known as the putative father’s registry. This decision is unsettling because father’s rights were terminated due to his failure to comply with a seemingly administrative formality.
According to Arizona law there are eleven grounds, or reasons, for asking the Superior Court to terminate a person’s parental rights to their own child. As most people would expect, the right to parent a child is strongly protected by our court system and has even earned protection under the Constitution of the United States. As a result, a petition to sever a parent’s rights typically asserts shocking allegations of child abuse or child abandonment or long term drug abuse by a parent. The complete list of grounds can be found at: A.R.S. 8-533
In the decision of Frank R v. Mother Goose Adoptions, CV-16-0051-PR, the pregnant mother secretly came to Arizona from California to give birth to a baby in May of 2014. She placed the child for adoption without telling the father. The adoption agency sought to terminate father’s parental rights so the baby could be availabble for adoption but the mother said she didn’t know the identity of the father. However, after seeing the baby’s picture on Facebook, the father believed he was likely the child’s biological father and in July of 2014, he filed a petition for paternity in California, the state where he and mother lived. After learning the child was born in Arizona and placed for adoption in Arizona, the father also came to Arizona and attended a hearing in October 2014. DNA testing confirmed that he was in fact the child’s biological parent, but the adoption agency argued that father wasn’t entitled to custody due to his failure to register “a claim” with Arizona putative father’s registry. The court severed the father’s rights, the Arizona Court of Appeals upheld the severance and the state’s Supreme Court agreed, “We recognize that a mother who seeks to deceive the father of her child and the adoption agency that assists her may read this opinion as tacitly permitting such conduct. But…such misconduct when the mother intentionally deceives the father- would be futile as long as father registers with the putative registry.”
Although father may have been a loving, caring person with the mental and financial ability to support his biological child, the court upheld the severance on grounds that appear to be menial and administrative. From a father’s perspective, the results are cold and value formality over his natural right to care for his offspring but the court’s opinion was certain to point out the importance of weighing father’s rights against the baby’s interest of permanency in the home of the adoptive parents who had custody since birth.