In 2005, M and S began a romantic relationship and then lived together off-and-on for four and one half years. However, during that time, S abused drugs and alcohol.
At one point during their time together, M became pregnant with their daughter A, and she broke off her relationship with S.
S was not present at A’s birth in November of 2009, but he did show up three hours after the birth with a pizza for M, and he did get to hold the baby. He was not named as the father on A’s birth certificate, nor did he ask that he be so named. S did not see A again until two months later when he spent two hours with her and M. He provided A with no financial support.
In early 2010, M applied for financial support through the Department of Child Support Services (DCSS). Through a paternity test, S was determined to be A’s biological father and in October of 2010, a court ordered S to pay child support via wage garnishment. S did so, when he held a job.
Sometime in 2011, S considered asking a court to allow him visitation of A, but when he learned that there was a $400 filing fee, he abandoned his efforts.
In 2013, M began a relationship with J. Within a few months, J bonded with A. He helped care for her needs and provided for her financially. The family relationship continued, and in 2014, M and J married.
In late October, 2014, S sought visitation rights of A through family court. He told the judge that although he had only seen his daughter a few times in her five years of life, he was now sober and wanted a relationship with her. He, M and A began conjoint therapy sessions to facilitate his future relationship with A. However, S had very little interaction with A during these sessions, and he never bonded with her.
In March, 2015, J asked the court to terminate S’s parental rights to A so J could adopt her. A trial was held, and the trial court found: “… (1) M's testimony as to S's efforts to establish contact was much more credible; (2) S was aware of the family court and its procedures but made no meaningful attempt to request visitation until 2014; (3) when S first sought visitation at that time, he did not emphasize that M had kept him away from A, but instead focused on his personal struggles, which suggested that he was not actively interested in establishing contact with A prior to 2014; (4) S failed to have meaningful contact with A for a period of more than one year; (5) the support S paid sporadically over the years was token; (6) S's communications with M's family members failed to establish that he had a meaningful relationship with A [because M was estranged from her family at that time]; and (7) A had a good relationship with J such that adoption was in her best interests. The court therefore ordered termination of S's parental rights…”
S appealed claiming that the trial court was wrong. Since S had seen A in 2014, his paternal rights could not be terminated based on abandonment within one year.
The Appellate Court agreed with the trial court.
Section 7822 of the California Family Code describes abandonment for purposes of terminating parental rights as “for a period of one year.” However, the code does NOT say that the year must be immediately preceding the request for termination. In fact, according to the Appellate Court, if the legislature wanted to include a specific time period, it would have done so when it wrote the legislation.
The Appellate Court further stated: “…Under section 7822, subdivision (b),a parent's failure to provide identification, provide support, or communicate with his or her child is presumptive evidence of an intent to abandon and his or her token efforts will not overcome this statutory presumption…”