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Cal. Supreme Court Says 'No-Fault" Parents Can Lose Custody

The California Supreme Court said dependency judges may take children away from parents who cannot supervise or protect their children -- even if the parents are not to blame.

Settling a split of authority in In re. R.T., the court ruled the state's Welfare and Institutions Code authorizes dependency jurisdiction without a finding that a parent is at fault or blameworthy for a failure or inability to supervise or protect a child.

"When that child's behavior places her at substantial risk of serious physical harm, and a parent is unable to protect or supervise that child, the juvenile court's assertion of jurisdiction is authorized under section 300(b)(1)," Justice Goodwin Liu wrote in a concurring opinion to invite the Legislature to revisit the issue.

Troubled Teen

The case arose after a mother started having serious trouble with her teenage daughter. The girl began running away at age 14, and gave birth to a child herself at 15.

She falsely reported that her mother had abused her, and then went to live with her maternal grandparents. After the teenager threw a chair at her grandmother, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services filed a petition to have her declared a dependent of the court.

The dependency judge concluded the minor, 17 years old at the time, should be placed in a different home while she received services for reunification with her grandparents. Her mother appealed.

California's Second District Court of Appeals affirmed, reasoning that the mother could not control the girl and that the mother's fault was not the issue. The court declined to follow a contrary decision, In re. Precious D, from another division of the court.

'Precious' Disapproved

Reviewing the issue, the state supreme court disapproved In re. Precious D. "Does section 300(b)(1) require a finding that a parent was neglectful or in some way to blame for the failure or inability. to adequately supervise or protect his or her child?" Justice Ming Chin asked and then answered.

Justice Ming Chin said the girl was incorrigible, even if it wasn't the parent's fault, but dependency court properly took jurisdiction over the child because she was in danger.

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