If Juvenile Courts are Involved, Outcomes Can Be Different than Family Courts

Jasmine M was 16 years old when she gave birth to her son JT. JT's father, Aaron S, was serving time in prison for robbery. At the time, Jasmine was a dependent of the juvenile court system, and JT become a dependent too.

During the first year of JT's life, Jasmine would leave JT with her mother for long periods of time without telling anyone where she was. Jasmine also prevented the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) from checking on JT, as ordered by the juvenile court. JT was subsequently placed in JT's paternal grandmother's care (Aaron's mother). He lived there for two years, from ages one to three. Jasmine was allowed visitation rights, but she was inconsistent in exercising them.

At age three, JT was returned to his mother's custody (with continued monitoring by DCFS) and visitation rights were ordered to his grandmother.

When JT turned four, Jasmine returned to juvenile court and requested the court terminate JT's grandmother's visitation rights. Jasmine did not like the grandmother, and believed the grandmother was saying bad things about her to JT. DCFS recommended the court deny Jasmine's request. There was no indication the grandmother was saying anything bad about JT's mother to him, and JT continued to thrive with these visitations. Further, the bond between JT and his grandmother was deep, and it was in his best interests to continue them. Jasmine also argued that to allow JT's grandmother visitation, violated Jasmine's constitutional right to parent her child as she wanted. Further, Jasmine argued, that juvenile court under California's Welfare and Institutions Codes was not the appropriate court for JT's grandmother to be awarded visitation. The appropriate court was the family court under California's family codes. If JT's grandmother wanted visitation rights, she should request them in superior court through the appropriate family code sections. The juvenile court disagreed with Jasmine, and she appealed. The Appellate Court agreed with the juvenile court.

Although the usual procedures for handling child custody and visitation matters in California are through the family code provisions, the Welfare and Institutions code sections allow the juvenile courts to control these matters in dependency proceedings – even final dependency proceedings. Further, Jasmine's constitutional rights were not violated. The U.S. Supreme Court held that unless a parent was inadequately caring for a child, government should not intervene. But Jasmine was in the dependency court because she was NOT properly caring for her child. It was the juvenile court's duty to issue final custody and visitation orders regarding JT's care.

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