Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Family Law
In re L.M.
Kate K. and Jaime S. were the de facto parents of L.M., who was placed in their foster care soon after birth. They challenged a juvenile court's order, made when L.M. was 10-months old, removing her from their care and placing her with Rita and John E. (the E.'s), who had previously adopted L.M.'s sister, V.E. The juvenile court had "an immensely difficult decision" to make in this case. As the court recognized, Kate and Jaime had provided L.M. excellent care for essentially her entire 10-month life. Yet, the E.'s are also "good people and excellent parents as well" and have adopted L.M.'s sister. L.M. thrives in both environments. The tipping point was the relationship between L.M. and V.E., who "hit it off immediately" and "simply love each other." The court found that it is in L.M.'s best interest to be removed from Kate and Jaime's care so that she may be placed with the E.'s. On appeal, Kate and Jaime claimed the juvenile court erred by applying the "wrong" legal standard: the court first had to determine if it was in L.M.'s best interest to be removed from their care, without regard to whether it was in L.M.'s best interest to be placed with the E.'s. Kate and Jaime further claimed that under this standard, focusing only on grounds for removal, the order had to be reversed because the juvenile court recognized that they provided excellent care and did nothing wrong. The Court of Appeal determined that, even assuming that Kate and Jaime were entitled to rights afforded to prospective adoptive parents, the juvenile court applied the correct legal standard, and it affirmed because the court's findings were supported by substantial evidence. View "In re L.M." on Justia Law
In re D.R.
Father appealed the denial of his motion to modify judgment because DCFS failed to give him adequate notice of dependency proceedings involving his children. The Court of Appeal held that the juvenile court erred by finding that notice through publication was adequate, because DCFS's efforts did not constitute reasonable due diligence. The court also held that the Hague Service Convention applied in this case because father is a resident of Mexico, and there was no compliance with the Convention as to notice for the jurisdictional and dispositional hearings. Accordingly, the court reversed all orders as to father and remanded with instructions to commence de novo with arraignment and adjudication after providing father with proper notice. View "In re D.R." on Justia Law
In re J.F.
B.F. (father) purported to appeal a juvenile court order denying his petition under Welfare and Institutions Code section 388, in which he requested family reunification services and increased visitation with his twin sons, J.F. and C.F. Although the order denying father’s petition was appealable, and father filed his notice of appeal within the time to appeal from that order, the notice of appeal expressly stated father was only appealing the order terminating his parental rights to the boys that was entered 44 days after denial of his petition. Because father’s notice of appeal was clear and unambiguous about what he meant to appeal, the Court of Appeal felt it could not liberally construe it to embrace the omitted order denying the section 388 petition. Therefore, the Court concluded it lacked jurisdiction to review that order. And, because father presented no reasoned argument why the juvenile court erred by terminating his parental rights, father waived his challenge to the sole order properly before the Court. View "In re J.F." on Justia Law
In re A.E.
Six children appealed the juvenile court’s dispositional order granting reunification services to their parents. The court found that Welfare and Institutions Code section 361.5 (b)(5) and (b)(6) applied, warranting bypass of reunification services. But the court found that the bypass provisions were overridden under section 361.5 (c)(2) and (c)(3) because reunification was in the best interest of the children, services would likely prevent reabuse, and it would be detrimental not to provide them. The Court of Appeal agreed with the children that the findings under section 361.5(c)(2) and section 361.5(c)(3) were not supported by substantial evidence, and reversed on those grounds. Although the only issue on appeal was whether substantial evidence supported the juvenile court’s findings, the Court's analysis addressed a legal issue of first impression, holding the term “testimony” as used in section 361.5(c)(3), referred to in-court oral statements of live witnesses, not to other forms of evidence. View "In re A.E." on Justia Law
In re L.C.
The Court of Appeal held that evidence of a legal guardian's occasional methamphetamine use outside the legal guardian's home and while the child was in the care of another adult in the home does not support dependency jurisdiction under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivision (b). The panel also held that there was no substantial evidence showing that the legal guardian abused methamphetamine, and no substantial evidence showed that the child was at risk of serious physical harm. Therefore, the court reversed the juvenile court's jurisdictional order. View "In re L.C." on Justia Law
In re A.W.
Mother C.W. and father J.C. appealed a juvenile court’s orders terminating parental rights and freeing the minor for adoption. The parents contended the juvenile court erred in failing to find the beneficial parental relationship exception to adoption applied, and that the county and juvenile court failed to comply with the notice requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). After review of the specific facts of this case, the Court of Appeal disagreed with the parents’ first contention, but conditionally reversed and remanded the matter for further ICWA compliance. View "In re A.W." on Justia Law
S.C. v. G.S.
Daughter was born in 1994. In 1995, following a request by Mother for child support in a civil paternity action in which Father participated, the court ordered Father to pay $360 per month. The Santa Clara County Department of Child Support Services did not participate in that paternity action. Father was incarcerated in 1998-2005 and never sought to modify, quash, or otherwise terminate the 1995 child support order. In 2004, Mother sought the Department's assistance in enforcing child support. In 2015, the Department filed a notice of motion and requested a hearing for the purpose of increasing Father’s monthly payment to liquidate his arrears. Father, for the first time, informed the Department and the court that he had been incarcerated. In 2016, the court granted the Department’s motion to increase Father’s monthly payments but, on its own motion, awarded Father “equitable credit” for his period of incarceration. Invoking its authority under Family Code section 290, the court reduced the amount owed in child support by approximately $70,000. The court of appeal reversed, holding that the trial court lacked authority to retroactively adjust Father’s arrears. Although legislation enacted in 2010 and 2015 suspended the accrual of child support for incarcerated parents, the statutes do not apply retroactively. View "S.C. v. G.S." on Justia Law
In re C.M.
Father appealed an order providing that he and mother share joint legal custody of their son, issued as an order terminating dependency jurisdiction under Welfare and Institutions Code section 362.4. The Court of Appeal held that Family Code section 3044, and its rebuttable presumption against awarding sole or joint custody of a child to certain perpetrators of domestic violence, does not apply to dependency proceedings under section 300 et seq. The court also held that the juvenile court's decision to award joint legal custody in this case was not an abuse of discretion. View "In re C.M." on Justia Law
In re E.W.
Mother appealed the trial court's orders declaring her son a dependent of the court and removing him from the care, custody, and control of mother, releasing the child to father and terminating jurisdiction with a custody order awarding father sole legal and physical custody. The trial court also ordered that mother have no visitation with the child. The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) takes a strict "first in time" approach to jurisdiction. The rule, subject to exceptions inapplicable here, is that once the court of an "appropriate state" -- one having jurisdiction under Family Code 3421, subdivision (a) -- has made a child custody determination, that court obtains exclusive, continuing jurisdiction. In this case, the initial child custody determination was made by the court in Orange County on January 2, 2014. View "In re E.W." on Justia Law
In re J.P.
J.P. (born 2013) and his half-brother, A.A., were taken into protective custody after their mother's arrest. J.P.’s biological father was not involved in J.P.’s life. Albert, A.A.’s biological father, had been living with the family and wanted to be designated as J.P.’s presumed parent. Mother and Albert separated during the dependency proceedings. Mother claimed that Albert had problems with alcohol, smoked heavily, and scared the children when he got into loud arguments. Police had responded several times to reports of disturbances between mother and Albert. J.P. and A.A. were moved from foster home placement to Albert’s parents’ home. Both mother and Albert visited both children. The children “show[ed] comfort” in Albert’s presence. Albert ensured that the children were fed and took them to parks. Albert testified about his close relationship with J.P., who had called Albert “daddy.” Mother disputed his accounts. The juvenile court determined that Albert did not qualify as J.P.’s presumed father under Family Code section 7611(d), although there was “no doubt” that there was a bond. Mother opposed Albert’s request for regular visitation. The court concluded that it would be in J.P.’s best interest to maintain his relationship with Albert and ordered weekly visitation, to occur when A.A. visited Albert. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting an argument that the juvenile court did not have the authority to order visitation with nonparents. View "In re J.P." on Justia Law