When the Court Does Not Remove Custody Rights

Mother and Father had three children, two sons and one daughter. In 2008, Mother was given both legal and physical custody of the children through a juvenile dependency hearing. However, shortly thereafter, the sons went to live with Father’s step-father (MY). Mother has had minimal contact with the boys since they began living with MY, and father has no contact with them, because he is incarcerated. Daughter remained with Mother.

In October of 2014, the Department of Children and Family Services (Department) received an anonymous referral regarding Daughter. A Department social worker attempted to check on Daughter at the hotel where she and Mother were living, but Mother refused to open their hotel room door to the social worker. Numerous attempts to gain entry to Mother’s hotel room were met with the same results, Department received assistance from the Inglewood Police Department. Upon discovering Mother had numerous warrants, the Police obtained a key from a hotel clerk and entered her room. Mother told the police officers, “I have a right to kill you here because I don’t like cops. I have a right to murder you here now that you are inside my home.” Mother attempted to strike the officers and she was subdued by a taser gun. Later she was admitted to a local hospital with a broken arm. Daughter was placed in the care of a friend of Mother.

During further Department investigation of the referral, Daughter (age 9) told Department that she didn’t go to school, did not brush her teeth, and that Mother smoked cigarettes “and other stuff.” Mother did not approve of the investigation, and from the hospital told social workers, “…you guys are in the process of me being in the Cold War. It’s an international elite conspiracy. I don’t need to answer you.” Mother also told the social worker that she had a microchip implanted behind her left ear to protect her stating she “… did not abuse the power of the microchip even though she could have used it to find out classified information.” Mother also believed the microchip provided her with visual images of aliens living among humans on this planet. Later, during the investigation, Mother refused to allow Department to take Daughter to UCLA Medical Center for a physical examination because she believed that was where the government implanted the microchips.

Department social workers also interviewed Mother’s sons. They knew of Mother’s conspiracy theories, were concerned for her mental health and knew of her past use of crack cocaine and other addictive behavior.

During the ongoing investigation Daughter continued to live with Mother’s friend. Mother was ordered to submit to drug tests. After initially refusing, Mother submitted to seven exams where she tested positive for opiates (codeine, morphine, and/or hydrocodone) on four occasions and failed to appear on one occasion. She tested negative for all drugs on one occasion, but also tested positive for cocaine on another occasion. With their drug and other findings, Department requested the juvenile court declare all three children dependents of the court, otherwise there would be a substantial risk of harm if they were returned to Mother. The juvenile court granted Department’s request and Mother appealed.

The Appellate Court agreed with the juvenile court regarding the risk of harm to Daughter and upheld the removal of Mother’s custody rights. However, the Appellate Court reversed the juvenile court’s order regarding Mother’s custody of her sons because the boys did not live with her and were not in a substantial risk of harm. The Court stated: “…given the plain meaning of the [law] and a common sense interpretation of the phrase ‘parent [...with whom the child resides,’ we conclude the [law] does not authorize an order of removal from every parent having legal custody rights, even those who do not currently reside with their children. Rather, as we have concluded, the Legislature chose to authorize removal only from a parent who is residing with his or her child.”

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