In 2003 the Legislature enacted Probate Code section 1516.5, making it easier for children in probate guardianships to be adopted by their guardians. Section 1516.5 authorizes the termination of parental rights when the guardianship has continued for at least two years, and the court finds that adoption by the guardian would be in the child's best interest.
Guardianship of ANN S., (S143723) Decision issued on March 19, 2009
California Supreme Court's Ruling:
In this case, a biological mother whose rights were terminated under California Probate Code section 1516.5 claimed the statute is unconstitutional on its face because it allows the fundamental rights of parenthood to be extinguished without a showing that the parent is currently unfit, or that termination of parental rights is least detrimental to the child.
The Supreme Court held that California Probate Code Section 1516.5 is constitutional.
The California Supreme Court held that it is now settled law in California that a showing of current parental unfitness is not always necessary when a court terminates parental rights.
California Probate Code Section 1516.5 applies to parents whose custody rights have been suspended during a probate guardianship. A termination proceeding under this statute occurs only when the parent has failed to exercise any custodial responsibility for a two-year period, with the possible exception of visitation. The California Supreme Court held that in this context, it would make little sense to require a showing that the parent is currently unfit.
The California Supreme Court ruled that as a guardianship continues for an extended period, the child develops an interest in a stable, continuing placement, and the guardian acquires a recognized interest in the care and custody of the child. California Probate Code Section 1516.5 appropriately requires the court to balance all the familial interests in deciding what is best for the child. The "least detrimental alternative" standard is effectively included in the determination of the child's best interest.
For the full text of the decision and ruling by the California Supreme Court, click here.
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