Not for Publication – Rule 111(c), Rules of the Arizona Supreme Court
Appeal from the Superior Court in Maricopa County No. JS17557 The Honorable Christine E. Mulleneaux, Judge Pro Tempore
COUNSEL Robert D. Rosanelli, Attorney at Law, Phoenix By Robert D. Rosanelli Counsel for Appellant
Vierling Law Offices, Phoenix By Thomas A. Vierling Counsel for Appellee Heather G.
Judge Kent E. Cattani delivered the decision of the Court, in which Presiding Judge Diane M. Johnsen and Judge John C. Gemmill joined.
¶1 Joshua G. ("Father") appeals from the superior court's denial of his petition to terminate Heather G. ("Mother")'s rights as to E.G. For reasons that follow, we affirm.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
¶2 Father and Mother have one child in common: E.G., born in 2009. Father and Mother never married but maintained an amicable relationship to parent E.G. Father and Mother agreed on joint custody and that Father would provide Mother with child support.
¶3 Father married a woman named Abigail ("Step-Mother") in December 2011. Father and Step-Mother had two children together, and Step-Mother has two children from a previous relationship. E.G. lived with Mother until Mother moved to Hawaii in May, 2012. At that point, Mother decided it was in E.G.'s best interests to live in "an intact home" with Father and Step-Mother. The custody plan was amended in the superior court to award Father primary physical custody; neither party was to provide child support to the other.
¶4 For approximately two years following Mother's move to Hawaii, the only contact Mother had with E.G. was through one Skype video conference visit. At some point, Father tried to contact Mother to ask her to consent to Step-Mother adopting E.G. Mother did not respond, and Father prepared paperwork for a consensual adoption and sent it to Mother. Mother then responded that she did not consent to the adoption.
¶5 Father filed a private severance petition in November 2014, alleging that Mother had abandoned E.G. under Arizona Revised Statutes ("A.R.S.") § 8-533(B)(1), and that severance was in E.G.'s best interests.
¶6 At the contested severance trial, Father testified that Mother had not been in contact with E.G. after her move to Hawaii, aside from "[one] Skype date." Father indicated that Mother gave E.G. a few gifts but had not provided any financial support or school clothes. Father also testified that he filed the petition so that Step-Mother could adopt E.G. and have legal standing to take her to doctor appointments, register her for school, and obtain a passport. A social worker retained by Father testified that E.G. is attached to Step-Mother as if she were her biological mother.
¶7 A guardian ad litem ("GAL") appointed to protect E.G.'s interests opined that Mother had abandoned E.G., but disagreed that terminating Mother's rights was in E.G.'s best interests. The GAL recognized that Father and Step-Mother were good parents and that E.G. was "in a good place" as part of their family, but she noted that Father and Step-Mother could "continue to facilitate that relationship and make sure that [E.G. is] well taken care of and in a good place" even without severing Mother's parental rights. Based on those circumstances, and given Mother's ...