Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznar
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Case Law Developments: A Case Study of Termination of Parental Rights Procedures

In re Dakota H., 2005 Cal. App. LEXIS 1351 (August 26, 2005)

This termination of parental rights case not only clearly describes the procedural stages of a termination case, but also demonstrates how the shift in the burden of proof and presumptions at various stages makes all the difference in the outcome.  Moreover, the case is an example of a heart-wrenching story that leaves one wondering how well the legal system really serves the children and families involved. 

Full text of opinion at:

What makes the case difficult is the delicate balance of interests painted well by the court in its opinion.  The child was a six-year-old boy with autism, removed from his mother after both he and she were victims of domestic violence.   Mom’s bond with her six year old autistic son was loving and strong.  However, her inability to leave her abusive husband for over a year and her poor compliance with court-ordered services along with her own low-level cognitive functioning, meant that the case progressed from permanency through reuniting to permanency through adoption.  The adoptive home that awaited him was one with highly competent caregivers with previous experience in adopting and caring for special needs children.  Tragically, the entire story, from the assertion of jurisdiction to the termination of parental rights, took over two years.  The court of appeals rejects Mother's arguments that the delays in the action violated her due process rights and that termination should have been denied under the beneficial parent-child relationship exception.

While breaking no new ground in terms of the law of termination of parental rights, the case would nonetheless be well worth assigning as a case study for students in clinical programs or advanced seminars on child protection. 


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