Accelerated Termination Proceedings in Arizona: When the State Takes Away a Child

By George Gould.


The Arizona Supreme Court has recently decided another case—Trisha A. v. Department of Child Safety—on a controversial law in Arizona juvenile courts. In juvenile court, there exists a mechanism for accelerating severance procedures. When accelerated, a termination hearing is transmuted, by the rules, into a severance hearing. Unfortunately, the language explaining the “good cause” standard appeared to vary across the rules.

Arizona Supreme Court Decision

The Arizona Supreme Court took this case to decide whether or not there was a conflict in the rules. The Court found that the “good cause” standard is different under different rules “because the rules act in different contexts.” A meritorious defense requirement is not required under Rules 64(C), 65(C), and 66(D)(2) because these rules center on the justification for the absence of the parent, while Rule 46(E), which uses the standard set forth in Civil Rule 60(b), considers whether or not the court should overturn a final judgment (after the parental rights have already been severed in the accelerated proceeding).

Next, the Court considered whether this change in standard under Rule 46(E)—which effectively raises the standard for overturning the final judgment made at an accelerated hearing—violated due process. This is the main point of contention between the majority and dissent. Both sides acknowledge the strong rights a parent has to his or her child; however, while the majority found no violation of due process, the dissent did.

Considerations Moving Forward

The Court has definitively upheld the legal status of these accelerated proceedings. Given this was a 6-1 decision, it seems unlikely the Court’s jurisprudence on this issue will change any time in the near future. Thus, legally, it is not an interesting issue. However, from a policy perspective, there seems to be at least one nagging issue: legal literacy.

How many people, even lawyers, in the state of Arizona are even aware of these proceedings? In a relatively niche area of law that concerns those on whom society usually frowns—bad parents—the number is likely low. Whether the average person supports the State’s ability to terminate parental rights in a short twenty-five minutes is a topic for another day and blog post, but perhaps advocates of parental rights who oppose the law should look to legislative initiatives rather than judicial advocacy to change what they perceive is bad policy.