Recent Family Law Cases
[Opinions available at: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions-slip.htm]
DEPENDENCY (current through 6/20/2021)
By: John Nieman
In re N.A.
5/21/21, CA 4/1: D077956
This case involves a failed petition of a former dependent minor for Non Minor Dependent (NMD) status under Welfare and Institutions Code §388.1. §388.1 permits a nonminor to petition for NMD status if satisfying various criteria. NMD status provides former dependent minors with help in achieving independence and enduring community connections for sustained wellness as an adult. The minor left guardianship placement prior to turning 18 years old. Apparently, monetary support for the child’s placement continued even after the child left, presumably because the support agency was unaware of her runaway status. The guardians provided some of that assistance directly to the minor through unspecified means and amount (neither $ nor %) for some of the time after the minor’s exit from the placement. After petitioning for NMD status, the Social Services Agency determined that the minor/guardian was ineligible for AFDC-FC aid upon the minor’s exit from the placement. The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s denial of the §388.1 petition. It found that the minor’s ineligibility was the result of leaving the guardian’s placement. That made her ineligible to receive AFDC-FC funding from that point forward (and subsequent to turning 18), a purported requirement of §388.1. The Appellate Court opined that §388.1 required that the minor to actually receive benefits after turning 18 (which support had ceased here) to qualify for NMD status. The appellate court further supported its decision by citing §11405(e), claiming it requires minors to have remained eligible (without a break) for those benefits in order to receive support as an NMD upon application for NMD status.
In re Daniel F. et al
5/24/21, CA 1/3: A160929
This case is about the denial of a hearing on a Welfare and Institutions Code §388 petition because of a questionable effort to contact a non-offending and noncustodial father. Father was not located and apprised of the dependency case until after the first §366.26 hearing was set. The trial court denied the petition on its face, finding that father had failed to make a prima-facie showing of sufficiency. A §388 petition usually minimally requires a showing of new evidence or changed circumstances and that the order requested would be in the minor’s best interest. Key to the denial of the §388 petition was an acceptance that the Child Welfare Agency had adequately exercised due diligence to locate and notice the father about the proceedings. For numerous reasons, primarily a 6-month lapse in efforts to locate and engage father and a failure to adequately utilize the father’s sister to that end, the appellate court found that there may very well have been a failure to notice father (which is properly cognizable under a §388 petition), a jurisdictional question which would obviate the usual need for a specified best-interest showing on the petition’s face.
In re Caden C.
5/27/21, SC: S255839
The trial court found that the parental-benefit exception (Welfare and Institutions Code §366.26(c)(1)(B)(i)) prevented the child from being adopted. The appellate court reversed, opining that no reasonable court could conclude that the child should not be adopted. The Supreme Court disagreed, ruling that the appellate court improperly relied upon the mother’s failure to recover from addiction and incumbent lack of parenting skills. The Court opined that if failure to recover from problems causing the dependency were a reason to deny the exception, it would never be granted; hearings to choose a permanent plan for a child are necessarily preceded by parental failure to ameliorate the circumstances that require the child’s protection from them. The Court went on to specify that the law did not permit “a judgment about the parent’s problems” to circumvent a statute designed to prevent harm to a child, the latter of which is at the heart of the law governing juvenile dependency cases. Notably, subsequent termination of parental rights rendered the appeal moot.
In re B.S.
6/18/21, CA 3: C091678
This case is about removal from de facto parents and placement with maternal relatives. Maternal relatives requested placement of the child from the outset of the case. An administrative appeal of the initial denial of eligibility for placement with those relatives followed the case all the way to the Welfare and Institutions Code §366.26 hearing to select a permanent plan for the minor. After further continuances to resolve the relative placement question and prior to terminating parental rights, the trial court removed the minor from the de facto parents and placed with the maternal relatives (who by then had achieved approval for relative placement). Citing only one contrary case (Vincent M. (2006) 161 Cal.App.4th 943) in the face of many cases in support of its decision, the court of appeal found that the de facto parents lacked standing to appeal the placement decision.