Kelly R. v. Arizona Department of Economic Security – 6/27/2006

July 31, 2006

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Upholds Termination of Parental Rights Despite Failure to Appoint Guardian Ad Litem for Mother Deemed to be Mentally Ill But Not Mentally Incompetent.

A mother (“Mother”) with a substance abuse problem appealed a decision terminating her parental rights to her biological children. Mother claimed that the juvenile court should have appointed a guardian ad litem (“GAL”) to represent her interests because of the evidence demonstrating that Mother was mentally ill. Division One affirmed the trial court’s decision, finding no evidence that Mother was mentally incompetent, despite “ample evidence” of mental illness. For purposes of the statute, A.R.S. § 8-535(F), the court held that “the essential question in deciding if reasonable grounds exist to believe a parent is mentally incompetent is whether the parent is unable to understand the nature and object of the proceedings or assist in his or her defense.” Because the trial court was not presented with reasonable grounds to believe Mother was mentally incompetent, the court did not abuse its discretion for failing to appoint a GAL.

Judge Norris wrote the opinion; Judges Hall and Thompson concurred.