August 17, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
No one will ever nominate Roberto F. for Man of the Year, but as a father, you have to respect him. Here’s the latest on his case (Arizona Daily Star, 8/15/14). What’s newsworthy now is that he successfully stopped the adoption of his two children by their foster parents. Roberto’s parental rights were terminated by an Arizona court and that gave the green light to complete the children’s adoption by their foster parents.
But Roberto appealed the termination of his rights, prevailed, had his rights reinstated, challenged the adoption and won that round too. That’s a strong showing by a man who, I’ll wager, isn’t highly educated and, up until four years ago fought an ongoing battle with alcohol and possibly drug abuse. So the real story is less about the technicalities of Arizona appellate law that held the adoption during his appeal to be void, and more about the efforts Roberto made to maintain relationships with his children. Those included fighting the State of California, the foster parents, an Arizona Juvenile Court and his own demons. That he’s come out on top against those odds is astonishing. That he did so for his children should open the eyes of the legions of people who prefer to think of fathers as feckless and uncaring.
Here’s the appellate court opinion from last year.
Roberto’s first daughter, L.F. was born in Arizona in 2005. At the time, Roberto was in prison in California, apparently for possession of a controlled substance. He was released shortly after L.F.’s birth and immediately applied to be able to live in Arizona to be close to her. California denied his request, but Roberto went to Arizona to be with his new daughter anyway, in violation of his parole conditions. He arrived when she was less than one month old.
Father, Mother, and L.F. lived together in Arizona for two years. The family later moved to California where, after approximately one year, Mother and Father separated. At the time of their separation, Mother was six months pregnant with their second child, I.A. Mother eventually left California and moved back to Arizona with L.F. In April 2009, approximately one week after Mother moved back to Arizona, Father was arrested and incarcerated in California for violating his parole because he had earlier moved to Arizona without permission.
In June 2009, I.A. was born substance-exposed to methamphetamine, and both L.F. and I.A. were removed from Mother’s care and custody by the Arizona Department of Economic Security (“ADES”). A few days later, the Children were placed in a foster home with Tracie H. and Jimmy S. (“Foster Parents”) and ADES filed a dependency petition.
Meanwhile, California required Roberto to undergo substance abuse counselling, which he did. The program lasted a year, during which the state once again refused to let him be with his kids in Arizona.
Father finished the substance abuse program in June 2010, but, according to Father, was not allowed to leave California until he finished his parole in November 2010. A few weeks after completing his parole, in December 2010, Father returned to Arizona to “fight for his kids.”
At that point, the State of Arizona’s plan was to try for reunification of the family, i.e. return the children to their parents and monitor the parents’ behavior to ensure they weren’t abusing drugs or alcohol and were properly caring for their kids. That plan of reunification was opposed by the foster parents and the Guardian ad Litem appointed by the court. The foster parents, Tracie H. and Jimmy S., filed an action to terminate the rights of both parents and adopt the children.
Shortly thereafter, the children’s mother relapsed into her drug habit and the state changed its reunification efforts, seeking only to reunite Roberto and his two daughters. But the foster parents, the children’s attorney and the GAL were all opposed, and they convinced the court that the case should be tried as one to sever the parent-child relationship and complete the adoption. In court, then, it was the foster parents, the children’s attorney and the GAL versus the Arizona Department of Economic Security and Roberto F. To its great credit, the State of Arizona stuck by Roberto.
And why not? By all accounts, Roberto had turned his life around and was devoted to caring responsibly for his children.
ADES reported that Father had demonstrated that he was able to parent and maintain a “loving and stable environment” for the Children…
The record shows that Father made numerous efforts toprove he was committed to caring for his Children. According to the CPS case worker, by the time of trial, Father had completed everything that CPS had asked him to do. Father obtained a job, housing, and consistently participated in visitation. Father worked hard at maintaining his sobriety; the CPS caseworker testified that at the time of trial, Father had tested clean for both drugs and alcohol for at least eleven months. Father made plans for elementary school, babysitters, and day care programs for his Children once they were returned to his custody.
Despite his limited income, Father made considerable efforts to provide for the needs of his Children. Father purchased toys and clothes for the Children, filling “a closet full of clothes.” Father also purchased school shirts, tennis shoes, ballet shoes, and jazz shoes for the Children. Foster Mother testified that Father had asked her what the Children needed, and when she replied they needed T-shirts and tennis shoes, he purchased them.
The court appeared to acknowledge these efforts, stating that “[F]ather has made significant progress, which does appear to have behavioral change.” The court noted that “[Father] [was] employed[,]” “ha[d] resolved his legal problems[,]” and “appear[ed] to have a stable home.” The court also pointed out that Father “[had] been clean and sober” for “greater than a year.”
Dr. Harvancik, the psychologist who evaluated Father, testified that Father was “able to parent” and that his prognosis was “favorable that he can continue to adequately care for his children.” The Foster Care Review Board Findings were also largely positive, 20 concluding that “[t]he Agency no longer intends to pursue the termination of biological father’s parental rights” as of June 13, 2011.
In short, Roberto had changed his ways in order to be a responsible and loving father to his two young daughters. But the trial court was determined to ignore all his successful efforts, remove him from their lives and force adoption on children who plainly didn’t need to be adopted. The appellate court’s decision overturning the order of the trial court makes that all abundantly clear.
For one thing, against all the weight of the evidence to the contrary, the trial court decided that Roberto had “abandoned” his children. Really. The man who went so far as to violate his parole for the sole sake of being with his newborn daughter, the man who’d gotten off drugs, obtained gainful employment, gotten a secure residence and proved his value as a father to impartial observers, in some way had also “abandoned” his kids. Such was the court’s theory.
That can’t have been easy for the trial judge to conclude, but he/she managed the feat. One way was to decide that being on parole in California, being required to remain in California during the term of his parole, being threatened with incarceration if he left California did not constitute, according to the court “a legal impediment to Father returning to Arizona…” That point of view on the part of a judge is utter nonsense. To say that the threat of incarceration if Roberto had gone to Arizona was not a legal impediment to his doing so is the claim of someone who’s desperate to reach a result — getting Roberto F. out of his children’s lives for good. Did the judge notice that he’d done that once before and gone to prison for his trouble? I suppose not.
That desperation becomes even more apparent when we realize that, in a five-day trial, the foster parents waited until the fourth day to even bring up the notion that Roberto had abandoned his kids. Reading between the lines, it’s not hard to conclude that they saw that they were about to lose their case, so they came up with a brand new theory on which to base their claims. And, at that late date, and over the stringent objections of Roberto F. and the state, the judge allowed them to pursue a cause of action for abandonment. Hey, desperate times call for desperate measures.
Those desperate measures were seen as exactly that by the Court of Appeals that reversed the judgment of the trial court and, after all these years, finally gave Roberto F. the opportunity he so plainly deserves — to do that most humble and honorable of things — be a parent to his children.
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#Adoption, #terminationofparentalrights, #drugabuse, #childabandonment, #Arizona