On November 12, 2012, the Los Angeles Police Department received numerous
calls from private individuals concerned about the welfare of a baby in
the park. A woman (Mother) was holding the baby (Son), appeared to be
drunk and had almost dropped the child numerous times. The police gave
Mother drug/alcohol tests, determined she was under the influence, and
arrested her for child endangerment.
Later, that same day, a social worker from the Department of Child and
Family Services (DCFS) began investigating the circumstances. Mother acknowledged
that she had consumed alcohol and drugs and didn’t remember anything
that took place during that entire day. Upon completion of its investigation
DCFS filed a petition in juvenile court requesting that custody be removed
from Mother’s care. The court agreed with DCFS and awarded sole
custody to Father (who was not in a relationship with Mother). Five months
later the court issued an Exit Order maintaining Father’s sole custody
and allowed Mother to have supervised minimum child visitation with Son.
The court also ordered Mother to remain sober, submit to random drug tests
and continue with psychiatric care. At that point the juvenile court terminated
its jurisdiction and told the parties if they wanted to modify the order,
they would have to go to family court to do so.
Less than three months later, Mother petitioned the family court to modify
custody to joint legal and physical custody (fifty percent to Mother and
fifty percent to Father). She stated that she had been attending therapy
sessions, was now under the direct care of a psychiatrist and that she
had been drug-free for over a year.
Father contested Mother’s petition. He noted that Mother suffered
from seizures. He also submitted the DCFS report, which stated that Mother
is a “very disturbed person’” with “psychopathic
tendencies…” that she “‘suffers from a “[m]ixed
[p]ersonality [d]isorder with [a]ntisocial and [n]arcissistic traits,”
[…that she is a] “serious…” and “…dangerous
risk to her young son,” and that she “has a potential ‘for
homicide of the child…”
Father also advised the family court that the juvenile court requested
a Department of Justice report because of Mother’s doctor shopping.
(Mother received treatment from six different physicians and received
medication from at least four different pharmacies at the same time, including
Ambien, Lunesta, Codeine, Promethazine, Vicodin, Olonazepam, Ativan, Xanax,
and Ritalin. In fact, she had filled a prescription as recently as three
months before the family court hearing. The DOJ report itself expressed
concern about the validity of mother’s negative results from drug
testing taken during that time because of the prescription medications
she was taking.)
After numerous continuances, the family court finally ruled. It allowed
Mother increased visitation in a three-tiered manner. With the successful
incorporation of each tier, more visitation hours would be allotted to
Mother. The court did not change custody, maintaining Father’s sole
legal and physical control
Mother appealed stating the family court was wrong and should have changed
custody as well.
The Appellate Court disagreed with Mother stating: “…In light
of the serious concerns stemming from Mother’s unexplained seizures
and her risk of relapse, father’s maintaining sole responsibility
for decisions relating to the health, education, and welfare of the child
also serves the best interest of the child.