When a Parent Fails: Appeals Court Upholds Involuntary Termination of Father's
Parental Rights in California on the Basis of Mental Disability
Recent tragedies such as the Newtown school shooting have sparked debate
over our nation’s health-care system and our failure to meet the
needs of those struggling with mental illness. Many parents struggling
with mental illness end up in the legal system fighting to prevent the
involuntary termination of their parental rights.
A California appellate court recently upheld a trial court decision by
Los Angeles Family Court Judge, John L. Henning, terminating the parental
rights of a father due to his mental illness. Father argued the court
committed reversible error by failing to order and consider an investigation
by a licensed clinical social worker under California Family Code Section
7850. Father also claimed that the Court was required to consider a report
by that social worker under Section 7851. In addition, Father argued that
the trial court should only terminate parental rights under extreme circumstances
when an adoption is pending. In this case, there was no adoption pending
at the time Mother filed her petition to terminate Father’s parental rights.
The appellate court reviewed the case and concluded that the mandatory
requirements of investigation and reporting by a licensed clinical social
worker under Family Code Section(s) 7850 & 7851 did not apply to the
Mother’s 7827 petition to terminate Father’s parental rights
on the basis of mental disability. The Court further held that Father
had “forfeited” his right to assert these claims by failing
to raise the issue at trial, and that there was no showing of ineffective
assistance of counsel or that he suffered any prejudice as a result of
the trial court decision.
In it’s ruling on Father’s appeal, the appellate court stated,
“In this case, the trial court ordered examinations by and considered
reports from two psychiatrists and a psychologist. It also appointed separate
counsel for the minor and father, as well as a guardian ad litem for father.
At no point, however, did father’s counsel suggest or imply that
an additional investigation and a report from a licensed clinical social
worker be ordered, much less suggest that such an investigation and a
report were mandatory under sections 7850 and 7851. Had father’s
counsel requested an investigation and a report, both the trial court
and mother’s counsel would have had an opportunity to consider and
respond to father’s request. Because father failed to afford the
trial court and mother’s counsel that opportunity, he forfeited
any issue under sections 7850 and 7851 on appeal.”
Terminating one of the most fundamental liberty interests of an adult –
the right to care for one’s child – is a matter reserved for
some of the most extreme circumstances. Family Court Judges who must remove
children from the homes of parents suffering from a mental disability
struggle to make the right decision. Often, it is the best interest of
the child that must give way to a parent who is failing and unable to
provide adequate care for the child.
If you have a question about the termination of parental rights in California,
or if you have a family law concern, request a FREE initial consultation with a
Los Angeles Family Law Attorney at Castellanos & Associates, APLC at (323) 655-2105. We look forward
to helping you move on!
For More Information:
Read the full decision:
In re Marriage of E.P. and Stephen P., 13 DJDAR 2089, 2/11/2013.