Timothy B. v. DCS

If a parent is incarcerated, the child can still maintain a normal home through guardianship or other means if the parent stays in contact

Timothy B. v. Dep’t of Child Safety, CV-20-0318-PR, 2022 WL 664714 (Ariz. Mar. 7, 2022):

The court can terminate a parent-child relationship if a parent is sentenced to incarceration for so long that “the child will be deprived of a normal home for a period of years.” A.R.S. sec. 8-533(B)(4). What is a “normal home”?

Facts and Procedural History

Timothy B. was sentenced to 12.5 years in prison when his daughter was only two and a half. Timothy’s daughter will be 11 when he is released in 2024. While incarcerated, Timothy stayed in regular and frequent contact with his daughter. She lived with her mother for a period of time, and then with her mother’s friend after DCS filed a dependency action against her mother. She spoke with Timothy weekly and visited him monthly during this time.

DCS filed for termination based on the length of sentence ground, and the court terminated Timothy’s parental rights.

Ruling

What is a “normal home” when your parent is incarcerated?

The court of appeals interprets this phrase by looking at the legislative history of severance and adoption. Before 1970, Arizona didn’t have a separate statutory scheme for termination. Instead, the children were just adopted with or without the parent’s consent (under a best interests analysis, no grounds needed). In 1970, seeing many neglected children fill up “family homes” and institutions, the court ended the practice of maintaining the parent-child relationship by prescribing termination procedures. In other words, one of the purposes of the current statutory scheme is to avoid children languishing in foster homes; not necessarily terminating the rights of unfit parents.

Citing this history, the court interprets “normal home” to mean a stable and long-term family environment outside a foster care placement, where another parent or a permanent guardian resides and parents the child, and where the incarcerated parent affirmatively acts to maintain a relationship with the child that contributes to rather than detracts from the child’s stable, family environment.

A normal home does not necessarily require a parent’s physical presence in the home if the child is otherwise in a stable and long-term family environment outside foster care. “Because we can assume as a matter of common sense that the legislature would not intend to place a child in an ‘abnormal home,’ it follows that a ‘normal home’ can consist of a home in which the child has a permanent guardian, and the birth or adoptive parent is not physically present in the home but has some relationship with the child that serves the child’s best interests.”

The court also reviews the balancing test between parental rights and a child’s best interest. Once a parent is found to be unfit (under one or more termination grounds), their interest is diluted and given less weight in the trial court’s analysis.