A Parents Poverty Does Not Determine Parental Rights

Daughter [D] was 18 months old when the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services [Department] petitioned her removal from the care of her mother [M] because of drug and mental health abuse issues and Father’s [F] failure to provide for her.  The court removed D from M’s care and placed her in the foster care system.

Father [F] petitioned the court and asked to be granted custody of D.  He had been paying M child support since D was four months old, and was trying to provide a good place for F and D to live.  However, he was having trouble making enough money to do so.  He requested the court grant him custody and that he and D be allowed to return to his hometown of Chicago where relatives had already promised to help him raise D.  Department argued before the court that neither M nor F were capable of providing from D, and that D should remain in foster care, with six months of parenting classes toward reunification.  If the parents were unable to reach reunification guidelines within those six months, then their parental rights should be terminated.  The court agreed with the Department.

At the six-month progress hearing, F argued that he now had full time employment – with benefits – and a stable place for D and himself to live.  The Department argued that, although [F]’s lifestyle was stable at this moment in time, they could still change.  The court agreed with F]the Department and terminated both parents’ parental rights.  According to the court: “…The fact that the case plan services may be completed does not in and of itself demonstrate that the parent is ready [to] have the child placed in their care. [¶] I understand from what counsel is representing today, he’s not asking for placement. He’s really asking for services so it could potentially lead to placement. But this Court has to look at the entire case and the actions of father and where he’s progressed from the beginning to now, and the Court doesn’t believe that giving six more months of services is going to get [F] to a point of being able to have his daughter in his care and weighing that with keeping [D] where she is with her caregiver. [¶] Even if I did consider the circumstances of [F] currently to be changed, I don’t see that [F] has shown it’s in the best interest of the minor child to grant him six more months of services with [the] possibility of return.”

F appealed.

The Appellate Court stated, “[F] is without question correct that parental rights are fundamental and a trial court ‘may not terminate a nonoffending, noncustodial mother’s or presumed father’s parental rights without finding, by clear and convincing evidence, that awarding custody to the parent would be detrimental.’”  (Citations omitted)

The Appellate Court further stated, “…But until the State proves parental unfitness, the child and his parents share a vital interest in preventing erroneous termination of their natural relationship.”

Lastly, the Appellate Court stated, “The real problem with the trial court’s detriment finding is it was based on [F]’s poverty, which is barred by statute and our case law. The dependency statute directs “[a] child shall not be found to be a person [subject to dependency proceedings] solely due to the lack of an emergency shelter for the family.”

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