In December of 2013, Mother [M] gave birth to fraternal twins, Daughter [D] and Son [S] in Sacramento, California. She and the twins moved in with the twins’ godparents. When the twins were four months old, M and the twins moved from Sacramento to Alameda because she was afraid of the twins’ biological father. M has a history of mental disorders and abused drugs. In 2015, Her twins were removed from her by the Alameda County Social Services Agency [Agency] when D was found not breathing and un-responsive on the couch. The twins were reunited with their godparents in Sacramento for foster care.
M began working with an Agency social worker to have her twins returned to her. However, in a home visit in 2017, M confessed to the social worker that she was abusing drugs again and needed help to get sober. She was given the help and returned to sobriety. Sadly, she didn’t remain sober, and while high, she got into an argument with the twins’ godparents over her inability to remain sober. At that point, the children had been living with the godparents for 24 months of their 44-month lives. Agency determined that M was not able to care for the twins and asked the court to terminate her parental rights and allow the twins to be adopted.
The trial court noted that the children had lived with the godparents for most of their lives, even though M visited them. Many of the visits were difficult, and “although they are very tied to their mother, it’s not to such an extent that they can’t be happy in their godparents’ placement.” The court concluded that M’s relationship with the twins was not substantial enough to outweigh the twins’ need for stability with the godparents. The court further declined to find a beneficial parent-child relationship that would preclude termination of M’s parental rights. Her parental rights were terminated, and the twins were freed for adoption.
M appealed and the Appellate Court reversed the decision of the trial court.
According to California’s Welfare and Institutions Code Section 366.26, to avoid termination of parental rights and adoption, a parent has the burden of proving a statutory exception to termination of parental rights. One of those exceptions is the parental benefit exception. This applies when there is a compelling reason that the termination of parental rights would be detrimental to the child. This exception can only be found when the parents have maintained regular visitation and contact with the children and the children would benefit from continuing the relationship. “The exception must be examined on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the many variables which affect a parent/child bond. The age of the child, the portion of the child’s life spent in the parent’s custody, the ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ effect of interaction between parent and child, and the child’s particular needs are some of the variables which logically affect a parent/child bond.”
The Appellate Court found that it would be in the twins’ best interest to be with M. They were only four years old. They loved M and she should always be a presence in their lives.
According to the Los Angeles County Bar: “The standard for determining whether there is a beneficial relationship between a parent and child is not whether the bond with the parent is strong enough to prevent the child from being happy in an alternate placement, but whether the child benefits from the parent's presence.”