California Court Discusses Grounds for Denying Reunification Services in Custody Cases

The California family law courts generally try to preserve parental rights, and in cases in which a parent is estranged from a child, they may order reunification services to help repair the parent-child relationship. In some cases, however, the court will find that reunification efforts will not be beneficial to a child, and will deny a parent’s request for reunification services. Recently, a California appellate court discussed when it is proper to deny reunification services in a case in which the mother sought reunification with her three children that were removed from her care. If you or the co-parent of your child have a strained relationship with the child and wish to seek reunification services, it is sensible to speak with a proficient California child custody attorney to discuss your rights.

Background of the Case

Reportedly, the mother and the father had two biological children. The parents were routinely investigated by child services due to issues with neglect and domestic violence. In 2015, at the end of the first dependency, the children were removed from the mother’s care, and custody was granted to the father. The children were then taken from the father in 2017, and after the second dependency, custody was granted to the mother. The mother subsequently had another child.

It is alleged that in 2018, a third dependency commenced after all three children were removed from the mother’s care. The County Children and Family Services (CFS) subsequently recommended that any reunification efforts with the mother be bypassed.  The court issued an order bypassing reunification services for the third child but granted the mother reunification services for the first two children, based on the finding that the two children were the same child. Counsel for the first and second child appealed.

Reunification Services Under California Law

In general, California courts are obligated to provide reunification services when a child is removed from the custody of the parent. The goal of reunification is to preserve the family and alleviate the factors leading to the loss of custody. The legislature recognized, however, that in some cases, the delay caused by reunification efforts would be more harmful to a child, despite any wishes to keep a family intact. Thus, the law specifically permits courts to bypass reunification efforts in cases in which the parent seeking reunification is likely to benefit from the services, or where reunification will most likely be fruitless.

For example, the law allows the court to deny a parent’s request for reunification services with a child, where the parent’s prior reunification services with the child’s half-sibling or sibling were terminated, and where the parent failed to address the issues that led to the removal of the half-sibling or sibling from the parent.

In the subject case, the issue on appeal was whether the first two children would be treated as the “same child” for purposes of the exception and whether the exception permitted the courts to bypass reunification in cases where the parent only had one child, and prior attempts at reunification with the child had failed. The court found that, regardless of whether the first two children should be considered the “same child,” interpreting the statute literally, by limiting bypass of reunification services to cases in which a parent has more than one child, would lead to absurd results. Thus, the court found that the language of the statute was ambiguous and allowed for the bypass of reunification in cases involving one child. As such, the court remanded the case for an order denying reunification efforts.

Discuss Your Case with a Capable Attorney

The biological parents of a child do not always act in the child’s best interest, and in some cases, it is better for a child to be cared for by other adults. If you wish to seek joint or sole custody of a child, it is in your best interest to meet with a capable child custody attorney to discuss your case. Ethan M. Weisinger is a skillful California family law attorney adept at helping parties seek a custody arrangement that is in the best interest of the child involved. Mr. Weisinger can be reached via the online form or at (925)258-2020 to set up a confidential consultation regarding your case.

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