Justia Family Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
In re M.F.
The children, born in 2016 and 2017, were taken into protective custody in July 2020 after their younger sibling, R., suffered non-accidental fatal head injuries while in the care of their father. Continuances, due in part to the pandemic, significantly delayed the jurisdiction and disposition hearings, which took place in February and May 2021. The juvenile court found there was a substantial risk of detriment to the children if returned to Mother’s care, ordered their removal from her physical custody, and ordered family reunification services for her. The court granted the Department of Family and Children’s Services' unopposed request to combine the six-month and 12-month review hearings. While the appeal was pending, the juvenile court held the 18-month review hearing and returned the children to Mother on a plan of family maintenance.The court of appeal affirmed. in light of the strict statutory limits set out in the dependency scheme, Mother failed to establish error with respect to combining the six-month and 12-month hearings. Mother’s claim that she faces the potential loss of a full and fair opportunity to reunify in the event the children are removed again is not ripe for review. Mother has not shown that her trial counsel’s failure to object to the setting of the combined review hearing was deficient or prejudicial. View "In re M.F." on Justia Law
In re A.L.
In November 2018, the Santa Clara County Department of Family and Children’s Services filed a petition (Welfare and Institutions Code section 3001) relative to three-year-old A.L. A.L. was living with her father; she was placed into protective custody after her father left A.L. with a daycare provider for several days without making arrangements for her care. Father was in custody. The Department could not locate A.L.’s mother. In March 2019, the juvenile court declared A.L. a dependent child, removed her from her father’s care, and ordered family reunification services. Father received services for 16 months. In July 2020, the court terminated those services and scheduled a selection and implementation hearing (section 366.26). Father then filed a section 388 petition. seeking the return of A.L. to his care. In January 2021, after a combined hearing on the 388 petition and selection and implementation, the court found A.L. adoptable and terminated the father’s parental rights.The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting arguments that the juvenile court abused its discretion in denying the father’s claim of the beneficial parental relationship exception to adoption and did not apply the correct legal standard by basing its determination that the exception did not apply on the finding that father did not occupy a strong parental role in A.L’s life. View "In re A.L." on Justia Law
In re Malik T.
The Court of Appeal reversed the order denying mother's Welfare and Institutions Code section 388 petition and remanded for the juvenile court to reconsider her request for additional reunification services on the merits. The court stated that, although section 361.5, subdivision (a), generally limits family reunification services to a period not exceeding 18 months after the date a child was originally removed from the physical custody of the child's parent, nearly 30 years ago in In re Marilyn H. (1993) 5 Cal.4th 295, the Supreme Court held that a parent may utilize the section 388 petition procedure to demonstrate circumstances have changed and additional reunification services would be in the child's best interest. Furthermore, section 366.3, subdivisions (e) and (f), expressly authorize the juvenile court at post-permanent plan review hearings to order a second period of reunification services if it would be in the child's best interest to do so, ample statutory authority for the relief mother requested.In this case, the juvenile court's failure to evaluate mother's actual request for reunification services, rather than for an immediate return of all seven children to her custody, was not harmless. The court remanded for the juvenile court to conduct a new section 388 hearing and evaluate under the proper standards whether mother has maintained her sobriety and whether, under the circumstances as they exist at the time of the new hearing, additional reunification services would be in the best interest of any of the children. View "In re Malik T." on Justia Law
In re Eli B.
The court of appeal affirmed an order terminating parental rights over eight-year-old Eli and his sister, seven-year-old A.B., who have been living together in foster care for nearly four years. After noting that the father has died, the court proceeded on the merits and rejected an argument that the juvenile court erred in declining to apply the beneficial relationship exception concerning either parent. In light of all of the circumstances, the juvenile court had the discretion to weigh the harms and benefits of terminating the mother’s parental rights in the manner that it did, even if the children had a significant, positive emotional bond to her. Substantial evidence supports the juvenile court’s determination that the mother did not prove the existence of a significant, positive emotional attachment with either child. The juvenile court could infer from one violent incident, and the lack of judgment mother displayed on that occasion with a different child, that her anger and inability to control her aggression could potentially have a detrimental influence on Eli’s and A.B.’s mental health, if not also their physical safety were she ever to expose them to continued domestic violence. View "In re Eli B." on Justia Law
In re A.V.
The juvenile court exercised dependency jurisdiction over minor A.V. under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300 and removed her from the custody of her mother, S.V. (mother). Mother challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the court’s exercise of jurisdiction as well as the resulting disposition order. She argued in the alternative that the court denied her due process right to be heard at the jurisdictional hearing when it made the challenged findings in her absence. The Court of Appeal agreed with mother’s latter contention and reversed without reaching her sufficiency of the evidence challenge. View "In re A.V." on Justia Law
Marriage of Brubaker and Strum
In 2017 Brubaker sought dissolution of her marriage to Strum and requested a domestic violence restraining order, alleging Strum threatened to kill her and stalked her. The two entered into a stipulated temporary protective order. Brubaker alleged Strum violated the stipulated order multiple times. In 2018, the family law court issued a two-year domestic violence restraining order and subsequently found Strum had violated that order. In awarding Brubaker sole custody of their children, the court stated that Strum had not rebutted the presumption that an award of sole or joint custody to a perpetrator of domestic violence is detrimental to the best interest of the child, noting Strum’s inability to control his explosive temper and aggressive behavior.In 2019 Brubaker unsuccessfully sought to renew the two-year domestic violence restraining order. The court of appeal reversed the denial. The trial court erroneously considered only whether Strum committed acts of domestic violence during a narrow window of time when the original restraining order was in effect, and not whether Brubaker had a reasonable fear of future abuse, given all relevant facts and circumstances. A court should renew a domestic violence restraining order when the court finds the probability of future abuse is sufficient that a reasonable person in the same circumstances would have a “reasonable apprehension” that abuse will occur absent a protective order. View "Marriage of Brubaker and Strum" on Justia Law
Marriage of Reichental
After wife filed a petition for dissolution of her 39-year marriage to husband, the parties stipulated to the appointment of the Honorable Melinda Johnson as temporary judge. Judge Johnson subsequently entered a "non-CLETS" domestic violence restraining order (DVRO) against wife.The Court of Appeal concluded that Judge Johnson did not exceed the scope of her appointment when she heard and decided husband's request for a DVRO, but did err as a matter of law when she specified that the restraining order was a "non-CLETS" order. The court remanded the matter to permit Judge Johnson to enter an order in compliance with Family Code section 6380. The court affirmed in all other respects. View "Marriage of Reichental" on Justia Law
In re L.A.-O.
M.A. (mother) and A.O. (father) appealed the termination of their parental rights to their three children. In January 2019, Children and Family Services (Agency) received a report that the home was filthy. It received a separate report that the maternal grandparents hit the children and the parents were methamphetamine addicts. Both parents had prior arrests for possession of a controlled substance. The parents and grandparents actively avoided detention warrants executed to the home. In June 2019, a police officer on an unrelated call found the family at the home and detained the children. The next month, two children were placed in foster care; the parents had a third child, L.A.-O (L) in May 2020, whom the the Agency detained and filed a dependency petition. In July 2020, at the jurisdictional/dispositional hearing as to L., the juvenile court found that it had jurisdiction based on failure to protect, failure to support, and abuse of a sibling, and formally removed L. from the parents’ custody and ordered reunification services. At the section 366.26 hearing, the juvenile court found that the children were adoptable and that there was no applicable exception to termination of parental rights. It therefore terminated parental rights. The Court of Appeal addressed two novel issues raised by the parents' appeal: (1) the California Supreme Court’s decision in In re Caden C., 11 Cal.5th 614 (2021) overruled lower appellate court decisions holding that a parent asserting the parental-benefit exception must show that he or she occupied a “parental role;” and (2) the juvenile court erred by “ignor[ing]” evidence in social worker’s reports filed in connection with earlier hearings and that these reports established that the parental-benefit exception applied. The trial court found that the parental-benefit exception did not apply partly because the parents “ha[d] not acted in a parental role in a long time” and partly because the prospective adoptive parents “ha[d] been acting in a parental role.” Because the trial court used this terminology, the Court of Appeal could not tell whether its ruling conformed with Caden C. Hence, judgment was remanded for reconsideration of the parental-benefit exception. With regard to the second issue, the appellate court disagreed: the reports were not introduced into evidence at the section 366.26 hearing; hence, neither the Court of Appeal nor the juvenile court could consider them. "The parents will be free to introduce them on remand." View "In re L.A.-O." on Justia Law
In re Emily L.
DCFS alleged, and the juvenile court found true, three allegations that mother had physically abused, failed to protect, and medically neglected her daughter, Emily L., within the meaning of Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivision (b). While this appeal was pending, Emily turned 18 and is no longer subject to the jurisdiction of the juvenile court.The Court of Appeal concluded that, although the appeal is moot as to Emily, the court will exercise its discretion to address the merits. In this case, substantial evidence does not support the jurisdictional finding of the juvenile court. Given the lack of substantial evidence of any risk of future harm to Emily at the time of the jurisdictional hearing, the court concluded that the juvenile court erred in assuming jurisdiction over this action. The court reversed the juvenile court's order asserting jurisdiction, vacated the juvenile court's factual findings, and directed the juvenile court upon remand to dismiss the petition. View "In re Emily L." on Justia Law
Marriage of Tamir
Appellants, Soncino (Celine’s brother), Celine, and Yoram (Celine’s husband) created for-profit organizations, that provided music enrichment and formed a nonprofit organization to contract with public entities. The for-profit organizations provided services, which the nonprofit paid for. The siblings sued Yoram and the businesses, alleging Yoram had misappropriated property belonging to the businesses. The complaint was joined to Celine's and Yoram's divorce proceedings. The parties filed a “Confidential Protective Order,” which prevented Celine from disclosing information and documents she obtained from Yoram’s desk and the marital residence without Yoram's knowledge.The court concluded that Soncino was a partner in the businesses and that the appellants used the business funds for personal expenses. The dissolution was finalized. The Attorney General subsequently filed a complaint against the family businesses and appellants and moved to unseal court records in the dissolution, alleging comingling of charitable funds and using those assets for personal expenses. Ultimately, the family court ordered that records from the dissolution and Soncino v. Tamir be unsealed, and the protective orders lifted.After holding that the family court had the authority to rule on the motion, that the Attorney General is entitled to seek the records on behalf of the public, and that the appellants failed to identify a privacy interest that outweighs the public right to access, the court of appeal reversed and remanded. The family court failed to assess whether the documents at issue were used at trial or submitted as a basis for adjudication, and erred in setting aside the protective orders. View "Marriage of Tamir" on Justia Law