California's Highest Court Rules That Father's Sexual Abuse of Daughter Supports Finding That Sons Are Also Juvenile Dependents
In San Diego, the juvenile court handles, among other issues, juvenile dependency cases. Juvenile dependency cases involve situations where there may be abuse or neglect in the home. It is the juvenile court's job to protect the children in the family. Domestic abuse aimed at children is reprehensible for many reasons, most notably because the relationship between parent and child is innately based on trust. Parents who are struggling with issues in juvenile court should consult with an experienced family law attorney who understands the local laws applicable to your case.
In a recent California Supreme Court case, In re I.J. et al., the father had custody of his five children: three boys and two girls. The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services filed a petition with the juvenile court alleging that the father sexually abused one of the daughters for a period of three years. The court determined that all five children - daughters and sons -- were dependents of the juvenile court under Section 300 of California's Welfare and Institutions Code. The kids were removed from the father's home. He appealed.
While the court of appeals unanimously agreed with the juvenile court's determination that the daughters were dependents of the court, it was divided on the issue of whether the sons should also be taken away from the father's care without additional evidence. The Supreme Court granted the father's petition for review of whether the sexual abuse of one daughter supports the decision to declare the sons to be dependents of the court.
Under Section 300 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, the juvenile court is given the authority to determine when a child is to be a dependent of the court. There are many factors the court can consider, such as whether the child has suffered, or is at substantial risk of suffering serious physical harm or illness; the child has been sexually abused or there is a substantial risk that the child will be so; and whether the child's sibling has been abused or neglected and there is a substantial risk that the child will be also.
The court pointed out that there does not have to be evidence that the sibling actually be abused or neglected before the court can assume jurisdiction over the child, just that there is a substantial risk. The court thoroughly reviewed decisions within the state's appellate courts and found conflicting decisions on the matter.
The Supreme Court ultimately agreed with the decision below, holding that there was sufficient evidence to support the juvenile court's dependency ruling. In so holding, the court reiterated the lower court's characterization of the father's behavior as "aberrant in the extreme." Such behavior indicates that the parent "abandons and contravenes the parental role" - which, the court said, justifies an interruption of parental custody.
Domestic violence is the unlawful infliction of injury on another person. The victim may be a child, as in this case, a former spouse, or partner. Domestic violence cases are serious and require prompt and proper attention. Contacting a local attorney to advise you on the applicable laws and legal requirements is essential.