Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
by
In this appeal following the termination of parental rights, the mother contended only that the social services agency failed to comply with the duty of initial inquiry imposed by state statutory provisions implementing the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. The social services agency concedes error but argues that it was harmless. The Court of Appeal determined the agency failed to investigate readily obtainable information tending to shed meaningful light on whether a child was an Indian child, found the error prejudicial and conditionally reversed. "If, after completing the initial inquiry, neither CFS nor the court has reason to believe or to know that Benjamin is an Indian child, the order terminating parental rights to Benjamin shall be reinstated. If CFS or the court has reason to believe that Benjamin is an Indian child, the court shall proceed accordingly." View "In re Benjamin M." on Justia Law

by
The Department of Children and Family Services filed a petition (Welfare and Institutions Code 300(b)(1) and (j)), alleging Deshawn’s and Clairessa’s history of substance abuse and current use of marijuana placed one-year-old Y.W., and one-month-old Y.G., at risk of serious physical harm. At the jurisdiction and disposition hearing, the juvenile court sustained the petition and declared the children. dependents of the court, removed them from parental custody, and ordered the parents to complete substance abuse and domestic violence programs and to have monitored visitation with the children. At a hearing to select a permanent plan, the juvenile court terminated their parental rights, finding that returning the children to the parents would be detrimental, that the parents had not maintained regular and consistent visitation and contact, and that the children were adoptable.Based on the parents’ allegation that the Department failed to comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act, 25 U.S.C. 1901, the court of appeal conditionally affirm the orders terminating parental rights, with directions to ensure the Department complies with the inquiry and notice provisions of ICWA and related California law. Deshawn and Clairessa had each completed Judicial Council form ICWA-020, Parental Notification of Indian Status. Clairessa checked: “I have no Indian ancestry as far as I know.” Deshawn checked: “I am or may be a member of, or eligible for membership in, a federally recognized Indian tribe. View "In re Y.W." on Justia Law

by
In March 2020 LAPD officers responded to a call reporting “screaming, yelling, banging and slamming” at the family home. No one answered their initial requests to enter the residence. Ashley ultimately opened the door. The home was in disarray. The officers observed evidence of a domestic violence altercation. Two children in the home who were under age five were taken to the hospital. Blood and urine tests for both children were negative. Neither child had any marks or bruises that would indicate abuse or neglect. Ashley and Wesley were arrested for suspicion of injuring a child (Pen. Code 273a(a)), a charge that was not pursued. No domestic violence charges were filed.The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services filed a dependency petition (Welfare and Institutions Code section 300(a) (serious physical harm inflicted non-accidentally) and (b)(1) (failure to protect). At the jurisdiction hearing nine months later, the juvenile court sustained both counts, finding “there is a long history of these parents having some domestic violence issues.” The court declared the children dependents of the juvenile court and ordered continued supervision by the Department while the children remained in Ashley’s home. The court of appeal reversed. There was insufficient evidence to support a finding the children were at substantial risk of serious physical harm by the time of the jurisdiction hearing. View "In re Cole L." on Justia Law

by
Mother and her children traveled and lived in a van. Mother has mental health problems and is severely delusional. Mother physically abused the children, who did not attend school. Both Montana’s child protective services agency and Washington state child protective services became involved with the family in 2019-2020. As of June 2020, the family was in San Bernardino County, when someone referred them to that county’s child protective services agency. During a subsequent incident, police placed Mother under a psychiatric hold. Mother had no family in California but owned property in southern California. After the six-month review order, Mother challenged the juvenile court’s assumption of jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, asserting that Montana, not California, had jurisdiction.The court of appeal affirmed. California has significant connections to establish jurisdiction under Family Code section 3421(a)(2) and substantial evidence is available in California concerning the child’s care, protection, training, and personal relationships. When the proceedings began, Mother’s stated intent was to continue traveling within California; her land ownership and litigation in the state also demonstrate her connections to California. View "In re Ari S." on Justia Law

by
In separate petitions for extraordinary writ relief, Michael G. (Father) and Kristie G. (Mother) asked the Court of Appeal to set aside the juvenile court’s order at the 18-month review hearing terminating reunification services and setting a permanency planning hearing under Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.26 as to their 16-year-old daughter, A.G. According to the parents, the court should have continued services in light of its finding that the Orange County Social Services Agency (SSA) had provided inadequate services during the most recent review period. Father further contended there was a substantial probability that A.G. could be returned to him with additional services, and the court should have granted a continuance under section 352. Father also argued the court’s ruling denied him fundamental fairness and due process. After review, the Court of Appeal found no reversible error and denied the writ petitions. View "Michael G. v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

by
Shortly before turning three years old, J.D. in 2018, was removed from his mother’s custody following two violent altercations in his presence, one of which seriously injured his six-month-old half-sister. Ultimately, J.D.’s mother (R.T.) was unable to overcome parenting struggles that were the byproduct of a damaged childhood spent in foster care. Her parental rights were terminated.The court of appeal reversed and remanded for a new hearing. While the appeal was pending, the California Supreme Court clarified the beneficial relationship exception to termination of parental rights (Welfare and Institutions Code 366.26(c)(1)(B)(i)). The court stated that it is not possible to determine on the record that the juvenile court’s ruling complied with the principles announced in the Supreme Court’s decision. R.T. had maintained regular visitation and contact but it is unclear that the court properly weighed the existence of a beneficial relationship and the relative harms and benefits of that relationship against the benefits of adoption. While it is in J.D.’s interest to expeditiously select his permanent plan, the interests at stake when parental rights are terminated are of the utmost importance to both parent and child, and proper consideration of the factors deemed relevant by our dependency scheme is vital. View "In re J.D." on Justia Law

by
The appointment of a guardian ad litem for a parent in a dependency proceeding radically changes the parent's role, transferring direction and control of the litigation from the parent to the guardian ad litem. While necessary to protect the rights of an incompetent parent—an individual incapable of understanding the nature and purpose of the proceeding or unable to assist counsel in a rational manner—appointment of a guardian ad litem is not a tool to restrain a problematic parent, even one who unreasonably interferes with the orderly proceedings of the court or who persistently acts against her own interests or those of her child.The Court of Appeal reversed the order appointing a guardian ad litem for mother, concluding that the appointment of a guardian ad litem for mother is not supported by substantial evidence and was not harmless. In this case, mother's clashes with counsel were not the result of any mental health disorder but were deliberate and strategic, designed to frustrate and delay proceedings she believed were going to be unfavorable to her. The court noted that, while mother is unquestionably a difficult party, a guardian ad litem cannot be appointed without any finding of her incompetence. View "In re Samuel A." on Justia Law

by
The issue presented by this case arose from a family law order setting pendente lite spousal support. Appellant Mitchell Fletcher operated an investment management business. His income fluctuated considerably from year to year depending on the performance of the market. In re Marriage of Riddle, 125 Cal.App.4th 1075 (2005) held that a court had to calculate future income based on a representative sample of past income. Instead of doing that, the trial court here forecasted Mitchell’s future income based on the most recent year of historical income, which happened to be Mitchell’s best year ever by a wide margin. Given the nature of his income structure, however, it was unlikely Mitchell would repeat such a year. In the recent past, Mitchell had made as little as one-third of the amount the court based its calculation on. The Court of Appeal determined the trial court abused its discretion in calculating his prospective income on an unrepresentative sample period. In addition to managing investments, Mitchell and Jill Fletcher started a theater company. In calculating Mitchell’s income, Court of Appeal found the trial court did not consider any losses from the theater company on the ground that the theater was not “related to” the investment business. The Court agreed with Mitchell that the trial court employed the wrong legal standard in conducting that analysis. The error, however, was harmless because Mitchell did not identify any prospective theater expenses that would impact his income going forward. Nevertheless, because this issue may recur in this case, the Court set forth the proper legal standard for further proceedings upon remand. View "Marriage of Pletcher" on Justia Law

by
Jeffrey "Jeff" Ashby appealed a trial court’s decision to renew a domestic violence restraining order (DVRO) issued against him to protect his ex-wife Michelle Ashby. He claimed the court erred because the DVRO was not supported by substantial evidence and the court abused its discretion by failing to independently review relevant evidence relating to more current events. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded there was no abuse of discretion and Jeff forfeited his substantial evidence challenge by failing to set forth all the relevant and material evidence supporting the trial court’s decision. View "Ashby v. Ashby" on Justia Law

by
Months after the juvenile court denied E.G. (Mother) reunification services, Mother filed a petition under Welfare and Institutions Code section 388 asking for reunification services. The court denied the petition and terminated parental rights to Mother’s daughter, N.F. Mother argued on appeal that the court abused its discretion by denying her section 388 petition. Both Mother and D.F. (Father) argued the court erred by refusing to apply the parental bond exception to termination of parental rights. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal held that the court did not abuse its discretion by denying Mother’s section 388 petition. Mother failed to show: (1) a material change in circumstances; or (2) that granting Mother reunification services would promote N.F.’s best interests. In the unpublished portion of the opinion, the Court concluded the court did not err by refusing to apply the parental bond exception. Accordingly, we affirm the order denying Mother’s petition and affirm the order terminating parental rights. View "In re N.F." on Justia Law