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A California court ruled this week that parental rights can be legally terminated when a parent poses a danger to his child, even if the danger results from a treatable mental disability.
The parents in this case married and adopted their minor child. Prior to the marriage, the father suffered from mental illness, but had taken medication that allowed him to function normally. Shortly after they adopted the child, the father stopped taking his medication. As he failed to take medication, his mental condition deteriorated to the point where it seriously impacted his relationship with his wife and child, resulting in restraining orders.
The mother ultimately filed a petition for dissolution of the marriage and was awarded sole custody of the child. She also filed an initial petition to terminate the father's parental rights under California Family Code §7827, based on his mental disability. After attempted compromises, and expert evaluations, the trial court noted that the experts agreed that it was in the child's best interest for the court to terminate the father's parental rights. The court ruled accordingly.
The father appealed, claiming that the court erred because it is only in rare and exceptional cases that a trial court should terminate parental rights when no adoption is pending. He also argued that the trial court erred by failing to consider less drastic alternatives to terminating his parental rights.
The appellate court disagreed, finding that terminating the father's parental rights was in the best interests of the child, and that no less drastic alternatives to termination were reasonably available. Based on that reasoning, the court affirmed the decision to terminate the father's parental rights.