California Court of Appeals, Second District, Third Division
In re GRACE P. et al., Persons Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law.
M.P. et al., Defendants and Appellants. LOS ANGELES COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES, Plaintiff and Respondent,
from an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County,
No. DK00969 Robert Draper, Judge. Reversed and remanded with
A. Love, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for
Defendant and Appellant Father M.P.
Serobian, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for
Defendant and Appellant Mother L.R.
C. Wickham, County Counsel, R. Keith Davis, Assistant County
Counsel, and Jessica S. Mitchell, Deputy County Counsel, for
Plaintiff and Respondent.
GOSWAMI, J. [*]
and Mother appeal from the juvenile court's order
terminating parental rights to six-year-old daughter, Grace,
five-year-old son, Marco, and three-year-old son, Michael,
pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.26.
Father argues that the court erred in finding the beneficial
parent-child relationship exception to termination did not
apply and in denying him a contested hearing on that issue.
Mother did not request a hearing to assess her relationship
with the children and does not have an independent basis for
preventing termination of her parental rights. Mother adopts
Father's arguments on appeal, asserting that the court
erred in denying Father a contested hearing.
matter of first impression, we reverse because the juvenile
court abused its discretion in denying Father a contested
selection and implementation hearing under section 366.26.
When, as here, a parent has consistently and regularly
visited his or her children and at the selection and
implementation hearing, offers testimony regarding the
quality of their parent-child relationship and possible
resulting detriment that would be caused by its termination,
a juvenile court abuses its discretion if it denies a
contested hearing on the beneficial parent-child relationship
exception. We reverse and remand for the juvenile court to
conduct the contested hearing and determine, in the context
of all of the evidence before it, whether a beneficial
parent-child relationship exists and prevents the termination
of parental rights pursuant to section 366.26(c)(1)(B)(i).
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
September 2013, the court granted the Department of Children
and Family Services's (DCFS) request to detain Grace and
Marco after concluding they were at high risk of abuse due to
the parents' ongoing domestic violence, Father's
abuse of marijuana, their exposure to Father's drugs, and
Father's gang-related activities (Father is a member of
the Mara Salvatrucha gang). Because Mother continued to
associate with Father, the court detained Michael in February
2014, shortly after his birth. In April 2014, the children in
this case were adjudged dependents of the juvenile court as a
result of Father and Mother's domestic violence and
Father's abuse of marijuana.
detention, DCFS assessed that the two older children had
serious mental health, emotional, and developmental issues.
The eldest, Grace, was with her parents for the first two
years and 11 months of her life. All three children were
placed in the same foster home and were enrolled in therapy
and services to address their mental health, behavioral, and
developmental needs. Over the course of this nearly
three-year long dependency case, the children's issues
were largely corrected via participation in services and the
nurturing environment created by the foster family.
Unfortunately, the children never reunited with their
the dependency case, Father was in and out of jail as a
result of his gang activities. Although he completed a
substance abuse program, he did not complete the
court-ordered domestic violence counseling or drug testing.
His weekly visitation with all three children remained
monitored throughout the case, but was consistent. Early on,
the visits were three hours per week. The foster parent, who
monitored the visits, repeatedly reported that Father was
always on time, interacted well with the three children and
that he was attuned to their needs. The foster parent
reported to DCFS that Father dedicated himself to all three
children during the visits and the children were bonded with
him. During visitation, he played with them, fed them, and
changed Michael's diapers. Father also maintained daily
and, then later, weekly phone contact with the children and
the children stated that they missed their parents.
section 366.26 hearing, Father's counsel requested a
contested section 366.26 hearing to determine the
applicability of the beneficial parent-child relationship
exception to termination of parental rights. Counsel
asserted that Father has consistently and regularly visited
all three children, those visits were positive, he actively
engaged each child during visits, and he has been attuned to
their individual needs. Counsel stated that Father
testify that during his regular visits with the kids, he
talks to them about school. He has on occasion redirected
them with regards to behavioral issues. He brings food for
the children. He also does play with them. He tells them he
loves them and they do articulate that they love him as well
and that the children call him papa and that they do not call
anyone else papa, so he does believe that the parent-child
exception applies. The children do perceive him in a parental
role, and he has demonstrated parental capacity during these
visits. He also believes that Grace would testify ...