The recent decision in the case, In re I.J., et al., will govern juvenile and family court proceedings in San Diego and throughout the State of California where similar facts are presented. Here, the father had custody of his five children, two daughters and three boys. Based on allegations that the father had sexually abused one of his daughters for three years, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (the “Department”) filed a petition that all five children be dependents under the juvenile court based on Section 300 of the State’s Welfare and Institutions Code.
The juvenile court removed the children from the father’s home and declared all five to be dependents of the court, citing a substantial danger to the safety, physical health, protection, and physical and emotional well being of the children. They were placed with the mother under the supervision of the Department, with court-ordered, monitored visits for the father. The father appealed. The appellate court unanimously agreed that the evidence was sufficient to support the juvenile court’s finding of sexual abuse, and that such abuse provided a basis for declaring the two daughters to be dependents of the court.
But the court differed on whether the abuse justified declaring the brothers to be dependents of the court. The majority of the court upheld the juvenile court’s decision, while one justice dissented, arguing that the father’s sexual abuse of his daughter, without more evidence, did not justify the court’s jurisdiction over his three sons. The highest court in California agreed to decide whether the abuse supported the juvenile court’s declaring his sons to be dependents of the court.
Under Section 300, the juvenile court is given the authority to decide whether a child is to be adjudged dependent of the court. Among the many grounds for such an action, the one applicable to this case is if there is substantial risk that the child will be abused or neglected as defined by the provisions of the statute. The Supreme Court indicated that the statute’s broad language allowed it to consider the “totality of the circumstances” when determining if a child is at substantial risk. The Court also points out that the state’s various appellate courts have rendered conflicting decisions on this issue.
The Court ultimately agreed with the lower court that the evidence supported the juvenile court’s dependency ruling. The Court pointed to the nature of the father’s sexual abuse, which was described as “aberrant in the extreme.” According to the Court, such abuse is an example of a parent abandoning and contravening the parental role, and such “misparenting” justifies the “interruption of parental custody.”
In a recent blog post, we reported on a California Court of Appeals decision that allowed the father to maintain custody of his son after molesting his stepdaughter. These decisions show how difficult it can be to navigate the legal process concerning child custody issues in San Diego. When faced with any child custody issue, it is imperative that you consult with a local, experienced family law attorney who thoroughly understands the state of the law in California.
If you are a parent with questions about child custody matters, you should contact Doppelt & Forney today. Mr. Doppelt is a dedicated Coronado family lawyer with more than 20 years of experience representing parents in Southern California. Doppelt & Forney serves clients in Scripps Ranch, Linda Vista, Encinitas, San Diego, and throughout Southern California. For a free consultation, contact Doppelt & Forney through the law firm’s website or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).
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