Tardy Parent at Termination Hearing Can Still Testify

Under Arizona law, an Arizona court may terminate a mother or father’s parental rights under a number of circumstances, including abandonment, neglect or willful abuse or even prolonged or continuing drug or alcohol abuse, if the court finds that termination is in the best interests of the child. And, under an Arizona statute, if a parent fails to attend the termination hearing after being warned of the consequences, the court may find that the parent has waived his or her legal rights, even when the parent’s attorney is present.

The court must still find that termination is in the child’s best interests, and earlier this month, the Arizona Supreme Court placed some limits on the waiver.

In Brenda D. v the Department of Child Safety, the state’s highest court said that a parent who arrives late to a hearing without good cause waives his or her rights to contest or reopen  matters that have already been presented to the court, but the court must still allow the tardy parent to testify and present other evidence.

The trial court had held that Brenda waived all of her rights to participate when she walked into the courtroom twenty-four minutes late, after the Department of Child Safety case manager had finished testifying.

Brenda’s attorney had been present throughout the hearing, but the trial court only allowed him, in the absence of his client, to argue about the weight of the department’s evidence.

The state Supreme Court held that even when the parent is absent, and a waiver is in effect, the trial court must still allow the parent’s attorney to fully participate and contest the evidence.

While the justices found error with the trial court’s hearing, it allowed the termination to stand, finding that Brenda had not shown that the outcome would have been any different had the correct procedures been followed.

By William Horne

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