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Copy of Arizona’s Dependency Court Process: Common Terms & Hearings (Part 2 of 2)

  • By: Robert Casey
  • Published: March 24, 2020

Arizona's Dependency Court ProcessArizona dependency and child welfare cases have a lot of court hearings and meetings. I have created a list of common dependency, guardianship, and termination of parental rights hearings to assist those who find themselves going through the system.

I highly recommend reviewing this list and as well as reviewing this chart for Arizona’s Dependency Process in Part 1 of this post series.

Dependency Adjudication

Also called a Dependency Trial, adjudications are when a judge (not a jury) decides whether the allegations made by the Department of Child Safety are true by a preponderance of the evidence. Dependency Adjudications are to be held within 90 days of service of the dependency petition, but are commonly held beyond that timeframe due to extraordinary circumstances.

Please note: in cases involving a child who may be or is Native American that these standards may be different.

Dependency Petition

A dependency petition is the document that starts the court process. Among many other things, it lists the parties to the case (children, parents, guardians), what the concerns are, and what the allegations are.

Disposition Hearing

Disposition is when a judge makes their ruling regarding an adjudication. Often this is done right after the hearing or in writing. Sometimes the judge will set a special hearing where the ruling will be given and this is called a Disposition Hearing.

Initial Dependency Hearing

An Initial Dependency Hearing occurs when a parent or guardian fails to appear for the Preliminary Protective Hearing. It is meant to happen no later than 21 days after the initiation of the dependency (which occurs with the filing of a Dependency Petition by DCS). At this hearing the parties go in front of the judge to discuss what services are being offered to the family, placement issues, and whether or not a trial is necessary to resolve the matter. At this hearing the judge will set future hearings and notify the parties of their rights and responsibilities.

Initial Progress Mediation

At an Initial Progress Mediation the parties come together without a judge to see how the case is proceeding and resolve any difficulties with placement and services. Generally, a neutral mediator is present to assist in creating resolutions. The goal of these mediations is to catch problems quickly without the need for judicial involvement.

Please note: not all counties in Arizona use Initial Progress Mediations.

Initial Termination Hearing

An Initial Termination Hearing, alternatively referred to as an Initial Severance Hearing, is when a parent or guardian informs the court whether or not they agree with termination of their parental rights. If they do not agree, then the court shall set a trial on termination of parental rights. It is important to note that failure to appear at Initial Termination Hearings can result in a parent losing their parental rights.

Mediation

A Mediation occurs in order to determine if there is a way to resolve the issue at hand without the need for a trial or adjudication. At a mediation the parties will sit down with a neutral mediator to see if they can resolve the dispute.

Please note: mediations are often set by the court even when not required by law and this is usually within the judge’s power to do so. Also, it is not uncommon to waive a mediation at the request of parties if there does not seem to be a way to find an agreement. However, a judge is the one who decides whether or not the mediation shall occur.

Permanency Hearing

Often called a Permanency Planning Hearing, a Permanency Hearing must be held for all children under 3 years of age within 6 months of removal from the home. For children over the age of 3 a permanency hearing must be held within 1 year of removal from the home.

At a permanency hearing the court will address whether the case is on the correct path. This involves the court deciding if reunification is still the best plan, or if guardianship, independent living, or adoption should be the focus of the court.

Preliminary Protective Conference

This is where the parties meet prior to going before a judge for a Preliminary Protective Hearing. Usually conducted before a neutral mediator, this conference is designed to resolve what services are being offered and whether a trail is needed.

Preliminary Protective Hearing

A Preliminary Protective Hearing is supposed to occur 5 to 7 days after the removal of a child from his or her home (excluding weekends and holidays). This hearing is normally the first time a family will get to see a judge. At this hearing the parties go in front of the judge to discuss what services are being offered to the family, any placement issues, and whether or not trial is necessary to resolve the matter. At this hearing the judge will set future hearings and make a determination regarding whether or not temporary custody of the child is or was necessary. At this hearing the court will also advise all parties of their rights and responsibilities.

Please note: if temporary custody is in question, the courts usually set a separate hearing on that matter and do not hear evidence at the time of the Preliminary Protective Hearing.

Preliminary Protective Hearings are authorized by A.R.S. §8-824.

Review Hearing

Often called Report and Review Hearings, a Review Hearing’s technical name is a Periodic Review Hearing. This hearing must occur at least every 6 months. At this hearing the court receives an update on how the case is going if the parents or guardians are making progress towards reunification, if court orders are being followed, and the safety of the child(ren).

Termination Adjudication

Often called a Severance Trial or Termination Hearing, a Termination Adjudication is a trial in front of a judge about whether or not a parent or guardian’s rights should be terminated. At these hearings a judge will decide whether or not the party moving for termination of the parent or guardian’s rights has proved their allegations by clear and convincing evidence. Further, the judge will also decide whether it has been proven by a preponderance of the evidence that it is in the child’s best interest for the termination of parental rights to occur.

Please note: in cases involving a child who may be or is Native American that these standards may be different.

*Please note that this list does not include every possible hearing that could occur in an Arizona Dependency case.

** This list does not constitute legal advice and should not be taken as legal advice. This is not a comprehensive review of each type of hearing and their legal requirements. There are many laws and cases that effect and define these hearings that have not been included in these brief descriptions. It is safe to say that each of these hearings could have dozens if not hundreds of pages written about them. This is provided to give a brief, general knowledge of the hearings.

Please remember that in child welfare proceedings there is no substitute for an experienced and well educated legal expert who works in the field.

Robert Casey

Michael and Casey attorneys at law fighting for your right to
child custody, grandparents rights, juvenile delinquency cases,
department of child safety cases, or other child welfare matter.