…But you can sure lose your parental rights for other reasons!
Mother [M] and Father [F] never married but they had a son [S] together.
M struggled with drug abuse (specifically methamphetamine) and gave up
S to F’s parents to raise him.
F’s parents [GM] and [GF] raised S for many years while F and his
new girlfriend lived in in their garage. S spent time with F when F was
around, but for long periods of time (months to a year) F had no contact with S.
In March of 2014, neighbors made anonymous calls to the Department of Public
Social Services [DPSS], alleging that S was being neglected. A social
worker investigated the allegations, and found F living in the garage
with his girlfriend and abusing drugs. The social worker also found GM
had been taking drugs with F’s girlfriend and GF was not protecting
S from his family’s behavior.
DPSS petitioned the Juvenile Court to take custody of S and put him in
foster care for his safety. The court agreed with DPSS, and placed S in
foster care. The court also put GM and GF on a DPSS monitored plan for
the return of S’s custody. The plan included monitored visitations
for GM and GF with S, drug testing of GM, and F and his girlfriend could
not live with them.
At the six-month hearing, DPSS informed the court that GM and GF were following
the plan, and that F no longer lived with them. The court increased visitation
to include over-night visits by S. At the twelve-month hearing, however,
DPSS informed the court that F was now living in the garage and that GM
and GF were allowing him to take S places without their supervision.
DPSS recommended that GM and GF lose all custodial rights to S, and that
S be placed in a foster home so he could be adopted. A social worker was
able to contact F and let him know of the hearing date to permanently
remove custodial rights to S. F asked if he could reclaim his parental
rights and get custody of S. The social worker suggested he attend get
a lawyer and attend the hearing. F did so.
At the hearing, the court removed all custodial rights from S’s grandparents
and made S available for adoption. F requested that he be granted custody
and the court refused calling him a “non-offending” parent,
but he had no parental rights to S.
A “nonoffending” parent is one who has not been the subject
of a jurisdictional finding under Welfare and Institutions Code section
300. F is nonoffending because the court never included him in the actions
regarding S and his grandparents.
F appealed, and the Appellate Court agreed with F: “Principles of
due process require that the juvenile court not terminate a presumed father’s
parental rights without first finding, by clear and convincing evidence,
that the father is unfit.” Since F was never a party to S’s
custodial matters, he could not be considered unfit. (However, DPSS could
still investigate F to determine if he were an unfit parent.)