from the Superior Court in Navajo County No. S0900SV201700016
The Honorable Michala M. Ruechel, Judge.
Bearnson & Caldwell, LLC, Cave Creek By Wayne K. Caldwell
Counsel for Appellant
Ellsworth & Porter, PLC, Show Low By Michael R.
Ellsworth, Joshua G. Crandell Counsel for Appellees
Jennifer M. Perkins delivered the opinion of the Court, in
which Presiding Judge Randall M. Howe and Judge Peter B.
Seth M. ("Father") appeals the termination of his
parental rights to the two minor children ("the
Children") he has in common with Arienne M.
("Mother"). The juvenile court terminated
Father's parental rights to the Children after Mother
filed a petition for termination under Arizona Revised
Statutes ("A.R.S.") section 8-533(B)(2) and (B)(4)
(2018). Father's admitted sexual abuse of his
stepdaughter constitutes willful abuse of a child under
§ 8-533(B)(2), a statutory ground supporting termination
of Father's parental rights to the Children. Further, the
removal of detriments to the Children, including instability
and safety concerns, supports a finding that termination is
in the Children's best interests. We thus affirm the
juvenile court's termination ruling.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Father and Mother married in 2012 and lived in Utah.
Mother's four children from a prior marriage lived with
them. The parties had the Children involved in this severance
action after they were married.
In January 2016, Father twice climbed into the bed of his
twelve-year-old stepdaughter ("Stepdaughter") and
rubbed her breasts when he thought she was asleep. Father
confessed to abusing Stepdaughter in June 2016, after
initially denying it. Soon after, Mother moved with all of
her children to Snowflake, Arizona. Father has not seen the
Children since that time and has had no contact with the
Children since January 2017.
In February 2017, a Utah court convicted Father of sexual
abuse of a child, a class 2 felony. Later that year, Mother
filed for divorce and filed a petition to terminate
Father's rights to the Children. Father then was released
from jail on probation, which prohibited him from having
contact with any person under the age of eighteen, but this
restriction could be lifted at the discretion of Father's
probation officer. At the time of termination, Father's
probation officer had not approved contact with any minors.
The juvenile court terminated Father's rights on two
grounds: first, "Father has neglected or willfully
abused a child and this abuse has caused serious emotional
injury to the child"; second, "Father has been
deprived of civil liberties due to the conviction of a felony
which is of such nature as to prove the unfitness of Father
to have future custody and control of the [C]hildren."
It also found that termination was in the Children's best
interests because termination would remove the detriments of
instability and safety concerns, and a stepparent adoption
would be available to the Children in the foreseeable future,
which provides the Children a benefit.
On appeal, Father challenges the statutory grounds for
termination. He argues that because Mother did not
sufficiently prove emotional harm, there was insufficient
evidence to support a finding of abuse and that the crime for
which he was convicted is not a type that proves parental
unfitness. He also argues that the juvenile court erred in
terminating his parental rights because the Children are not
The issue before us is whether Father's admitted sexual
abuse of Stepdaughter supports a statutory ground for
termination based on the plain language of §
8-533(B)(2). "[W]e review de novo legal issues requiring
the interpretation and application of A.R.S. §
8-533." Mary Lou C. v. Ariz. Dep't of Econ.
Sec,207 Ariz. 43, 47, ¶ 9 (App. 2004). We will
accept the juvenile court's factual findings supporting
the severance ...