Recent Family Law Ruling by California Supreme Court Regarding Parent’s Custody Rights

In a recent family law case, the California Supreme Court ruled that if a parent’s negligence caused one of his children’s death, the parents’ other children may be removed from their home, even if the parent was not criminally negligent.
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In In re Ethan C., et al, William C., drove his 18-month old daughter, Valerie, in his car without securing her in a car seat. Instead, the toddler was sitting on her aunt’s lap. Another driver ran a stop sign and crashed into William’s car, killing Valerie.
Some time after Valerie’s death, the Department of Children and Family Services of Los Angeles (“DCFS”) received information that William’s other children were being neglected by their parents. DCFS discovered that the home in which the children were living was unsanitary, the children were not provided with cribs or other adequate sleeping arrangements and there were more than twenty other people living in the home. Additionally, the investigation revealed that the children’s mother previously abused William and attempted to commit suicide. After completing the investigation, DCFS removed the children from the parents’ home and placed them in foster care.

In an attempt to regain custody of his children, William argued that since his acts were not criminal, he did not present a risk to his other children. The California Supreme Court disagreed, ruling that DCFS had the power to remove the children from William’s home solely due to William’s negligence which resulted in his daughter’s death. The judge ruled that William’s behavior raised serious concerns regarding the safety of the other children and therefore no separate evidence regarding William’s treatment of his current children was necessary prior to DCFS removing the children from his care.

According to California state law, under the following circumstances a child may become a “dependent child of the court”: 1) The child has “suffered, or there is a substantial risk that the child will suffer, serious physical harm inflicted nonaccidentally upon the child by the child’s parent,” 2) The child “has suffered, or there is a substantial risk that the child will suffer, serious physical harm or illness, as a result of the failure or inability of his or her parent or guardian to adequately supervise or protect the child . . . ,” 3) The child “is suffering serious emotional damage, or is at substantial risk of suffering serious emotional damage, . . . as a result of the conduct of the parent,” or 4) The child has “been sexually abused, or there is a substantial risk that the child will be sexually abused, . . . by his or her parent.” California Welfare and Institutions Code ยง 300 – 304.7.

Practical, realistic expectations on your part will help your attorney reach an outcome that represents both your desires and the best interests of your child. For a free confidential consultation about child custody, visitation, support or other divorce issues, call our office at 858-312-8500 or contact us online. Our San Diego divorce attorneys can answer the myriad questions that can arise during a divorce or child custody dispute, and we are committed to providing compassionate, quality legal counsel to our clients.

Related Blog Posts:

Proposed California Bill Would Have Substantial Impact on Child Custody, Support and Visitation Rights, San Diego Divorce Lawyer Blog, July 10, 2012
What Do I Need to Know About Post Judgment Modifications for My California Divorce?, San Diego Divorce Lawyer Blog, June 27, 2012
Photo credit: Photographed by Coolcaesar (California Supreme Court) via Wikimedia Commons