Why Child Custody Would Not Be Changed

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.

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