Parental Rights Terminated for Failure to File Notice of Paternity Claim with Putative Fathers Registry
Biological father filed paternity establishment petition in California where both parents resided. His parental rights were terminated on statutory ground he failed to file notice of claim of paternity with Arizona putative fathers registry. Mother’s fraud and adoption agency misrepresentations were punished by award of sanctions. No due process violation with service by publication because father had actual notice of severance proceedings from Phoenix adoption agency.
In 2013, Frank and Rachel were permanent residents of California when their intimate relationship resulted in pregnancy. They separated that August. The mother did not receive prenatal support from the father. In December, she contacted Adoption Network Law Center (ANLC) of California to arrange adoption of her baby when born. She informed ANLC of father’s identity. When contacted by ANLC, the father asserted his intent to support and care for the child if his. ANLC declined to accept the baby, anticipating the father would contest adoption.
The mother then arranged for adoption of her unborn baby with Mother Goose Adoptions of Arizona. Her affidavit falsely stated she did not know who the father was and that no man had claimed or acknowledged paternity. She omitted any mention of ANLC on the form, a material fact.
Unbeknownst to father, Mother Goose Adoptions (MGA) provided a Phoenix hotel room for the pregnant mother to reside temporarily. Baby “E.E.” was born in Maricopa County on May 5, 2014. Three days later, the mother voluntarily executed her Relinquishment of Rights for Adoption over to MGA.
Phoenix Adoption Agency Petitions to Sever Parental Rights
On May 14, MGA filed a severance petition to terminate the parent-child relationship and appointment of guardian. Notice of court proceedings was by publication in Maricopa County with “John Doe” as father. The address for the mother was her temporary residence at the hotel in Phoenix. (Her permanent residence in California was omitted.)
The mother told the father the child was not his, but when he saw a photo of baby E.E. on Facebook, he was convinced the child resembled him enough to justify court intervention. He filed a petition in California to establish paternity. The mother notified MGA of father’s paternity case.
On July 30, 2014, the juvenile court terminated the parental rights of the mother and unknown father. Pursuant ARS § 25-1032(A)(2) of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), the juvenile court then relinquished jurisdiction to Tennessee which was “home state” to the adoptive parents. The mother was served with the California paternity petition the same day father’s parental rights were terminated in Arizona.
In August, MGA asked the Arizona juvenile court to reassert jurisdiction, which it did. MGA amended its petition to terminate father’s parental rights, adding the ground he failed to file notice of paternity claim within 30 days of the birth as required by ARS § 8-106.01(A,B). However, MGA failed to inform the court of father’s California paternity action.
At the paternity establishment hearing in California, the father learned from the mother for the first time that E.E. was born in Arizona. That Arizona, not California, had UCCJEA home state jurisdiction over child custody. That MGA had petitioned to terminate his parental rights in Arizona. And that baby E.E. had already been placed with prospective adoptive parents in Tennessee.
Strict Compliance with Statutory Requirements
A putative father may file notice of a claim of paternity with the registry anytime during the mother’s pregnancy or within 30 days of the birth. ARS § 8-106.01.
ARS § 8-533(B) provides statutory grounds for terminating a parent’s rights:
Evidence sufficient to justify the termination of the parent-child relationship shall include any one of the following, and in considering any of the following grounds, the court shall also consider the best interests of the child:
1. That the parent has abandoned the child.
6. That the putative father failed to file a notice of claim of paternity as prescribed in § 8-106.01.
In October, the juvenile court appointed counsel for the father and ordered a DNA test which ultimately established paternity. After conferring with the California court, the Arizona court asserted UCCJEA jurisdiction. The severance hearing was held in December 2014.
In February 2015, MGA amended its petition again, adding “abandonment” as a ground for terminating father’s parental rights. MGA made two misstatements: First, that the mother knew of no person claiming paternity rights; and second, that the father was unknown and Frank “may” be the biological father. In fact, MGA knew DNA testing from the previous October had already established paternity.
Even after the mother’s deceptions and MGA’s misstatements, this father still had sufficient opportunity to timely file notice of claim with the registry, but “on his lawyer’s advice, chose not to do so.”
Sole Ground for Terminating Parental Rights
In April 2015, the juvenile court severed father’s parental rights on the sole ground he failed to file notice with the registry as ARS § 8-106.01 specifically required. The court found that terminating his parental rights was also in the child’s best interests. MGA failed to establish abandonment and the mother was found to have deliberately obstructed father’s ability to assert his rights. But those findings did not change the outcome. Father appealed.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the juvenile court holding ARS § 8-533(B)(6) was correctly applied to the facts of the case. Despite mother’s fraudulent acts, the father had 30 days under the statute to file with the registry, had the ability to do so, and yet did not. A very consequential omission.
The Arizona Supreme Court accepted jurisdiction and affirmed. Also upheld were the Court of Appeal’s sanctions against both mother and MGA for unconscionable acts against the biological father.
The father’s failure to file notice of claim of paternity with the putative fathers registry is a ground for severance of his parental rights. That is, not registering under ARS § 8-106.01 is independent statutory basis for severance under ARS § 8-533(B)(6). Yes, the result is harsh for the father. But it would be equally harsh to remove a child from the only parents he or she has ever known. The child’s best interests cannot be disregarded in order to punish the mother and MGA. On balance, it is better for the child to stay in the hands of the adoptive parents in Tennessee.
The Supreme Courts’ rationale for precise timelines and strict adherence to the statutory requirements include:
- Prompt finality as necessary to protect the child’s interest in stable permanent placement (either with the adoptive parents or a biological parent);
- Recognition of the child’s bond with the parents he or she is with; and
- Legislative history supporting the need for compliance with timelines so adoptions may conclude quickly and permanently.
For every putative father seeking to protect himself against possible severance of parental rights, this means strict adherence to all procedural requirements set forth in the statute.
The father argued registering notice was superfluous because he had already filed a petition in California to establish paternity. And that any delay was caused by the fraudulent acts of the adoption agency and the child’s mother. The court clarified how filing a petition for paternity does not take the place of filing a notice of paternity claim with the registry.
Lastly, the father claimed his due process rights were violated with MGA’s service by publication. He was never served in the manner required by ARS § 8-106(G). The father did have actual notice of the proceedings, though. As well as sufficient opportunity to respond and time to file notice of claim with the registry. Actual notice of the proceedings was received when MGA first amended its severance petition. His parental rights were terminated for one reason: His decision not to file notice with the Arizona putative fathers registry.
Frank R. v. Mother Goose Adoptions, CV-16-0051-PR (Ariz. Oct. 2, 2017)
For precise language, read the court’s original opinion. Legal citations omitted.
To learn more about adoption proceedings in Arizona law, consult an experienced adoption attorney with Stewart Law Group.