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Demetrius L. v. Joshlynn F.

Supreme Court of Arizona

January 12, 2016

DEMETRIUS L., Appellant,
v.
JOSHLYNN F., D.L., Appellees

Appeal from the Superior Court in Mohave County. The Honorable Richard Weiss, Judge. No. SV201404004. Memorandum Decision of the Court of Appeals, Division One, 1 CA-JV 15-0034. Filed July 30, 2015.

Appeal from the Superior Court in Mohave County, AFFIRMED IN PART. Memorandum Decision of the Court of Appeals, Division One, REVERSED AND REMANDED.

Ronald S. Gilleo, Mohave County Legal Defender, Eric Devany (argued), Deputy Legal Defender, Kingman, Attorneys for Demetrius L.

Chad Joshua Winger (argued), Harris & Winger, P.C., Flagstaff, Attorneys for Joshlynn F.

VICE CHIEF JUSTICE PELANDER authored the opinion of the Court, in which CHIEF JUSTICE BALES and JUSTICES BRUTINEL, TIMMER, and BERCH (RETIRED) joined.

OPINION

PELANDER, VICE CHIEF JUSTICE

Page 354

[¶1] We hold that in a private proceeding to sever parental rights, just as in state-initiated proceedings, a juvenile court may conclude that a proposed adoption benefits the child and supports a finding that severance is in the child's best interests.

I.

[¶2] Joshlynn F. (" Mother" ) filed this action to terminate the parental rights of the biological father, Demetrius L. (" Father" ), to their now 9-year old child, D.L. We view the facts, which here are largely undisputed, in a light most favorable to sustaining the juvenile court's findings. In re Appeal in Maricopa Cty., Juv. Action No. JS-8490, 179 Ariz. 102, 106, 876 P.2d 1137, 1141 (1994).

[¶3] Mother and Father never married but lived together for about three years after D.L.'s birth in September 2006. Their relationship ended in 2009, and Father moved to California while Mother and D.L. remained in Arizona. Thereafter, the parties had an informal visitation schedule for Father's in-person contact with D.L., but Father's visits ended in August 2010, after Father threatened Mother.

[¶4] Over the next several years, Father had no contact with D.L. other than an unpleasant encounter in Nevada in November 2013, when Father's family members punched Mother in D.L.'s presence. After August 2010, Father provided no child support and, except for one gift delivered by a family member, sent no gifts, cards, or letters to D.L.

[¶5] Mother married in 2011, and D.L. and Mother's four other children live with Mother and her husband (" Stepfather" ). Stepfather has known D.L. for about six years, has a close and loving relationship with D.L., and wants to adopt him. Stepfather views and treats D.L. as his son and would " love for him to have a father." According to Mother, D.L. is terrified of Father's family and also is afraid of Father.

[¶6] Mother petitioned to sever Father's rights on the ground of abandonment. After a contested severance ...


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