April 01, 2013

Court Not Required to Retain Jurisdiction Over Child Placed with Nonoffending Parent

Scott Trowbridge

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

In re A.J., 2013 WL 979108 (Cal. Ct. App.).

Where father was nonoffending parent with a prior history of criminal activity related to substance abuse and lacked prior relationship with child, trial court properly placed child with him and dismissed jurisdiction. Father exercised diligence in assuming parental responsibilities after child was removed from mother.

A.J. was removed when her stepfather was alleged to have used excessive discipline, including hitting her with a belt in an area with scars from recent kidney surgery. The petition alleged the mother had failed to protect her and included the information about previous involvement with the family by the agency for this issue years earlier. 

Approximately six months into the case, the agency reported it had located the father in Hawai’i through child support records, reporting there had been some delay due to the mother supplying an incorrect name. 

After several hearings, the court found that while the father had not been involved during the child’s early life, he began taking consistent proactive steps to contact and visit her and learn about her emotional and behavioral needs after learning of her removal. A.J. had known of him and had a photograph of him years earlier, but her mother had discouraged her from having a relationship with him. The child reported being very interested in visiting and getting to know her father and her family in Hawai’i after communicating with him.  Based on these considerations, the agency recommended an extended visit with him and the court granted it over the mother’s objections that it would interfere with her reunification efforts. 

After the extended visit with her father and his family in Hawai’i, A.J. adamantly expressed that she wanted to live with him while still having frequent contact with her mother in California. 

Because the juvenile court found that the search for the father was  lacking, it held he had a right to a new dispositional hearing. At that dispositional hearing, the court found the father was remorseful for not being an active father earlier and had taken proactive steps to meet his child’s needs if she were placed with him. The child’s therapist and social worker testified that he had learned about her emotional, behavioral, and educational needs and interacted with her appropriately. The agency recommended placement with the father and termination of jurisdiction.

Though the court approved the plan to place A.J. with the father at the time generally, it set a review hearing weeks out to ensure a e successful move. At the review it found that school needs and therapy services had been addressed and the child was reporting that the placement was going well. It therefore terminated jurisdiction. 

The mother appealed the juvenile court’s order terminating jurisdiction over the child.

The California Court of Appeals noted that the exact statute the trial court was operating under in releasing jurisdiction was problematic given the finding that the father was a mere biological father rather than a presumed father. However, the court found the mother made no persuasive argument to show that any higher standard would have applied if it had relied on a different section. Rather, the trial court carefully examined all evidence and acted within its discretion to ensure the safety and best interests of the child, upholding the core purposes of the statute. 

Second, the mother’s argument that the court released jurisdiction to avoid Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) requirements was unpersuasive. Though the court knew of the father’s past history of substance abuse and law violations, its orders clearly articulated that it found he was credible in that he had learned from his mistakes and received treatment. The juvenile court had substantial evidence before it to conclude there were no protective issues remaining and there was no reason to require ICPC supervision.  

The California Court of Appeals affirmed the juvenile court order terminating jurisdiction.