January 15, 2006
Case Law Development: Court May Not Terminate Parental Rights Based Soley on Agreement of Parents
The California Court of Appeals reaffirmed today that parents may not, by mutual agreement, waive their obligations toward their children. After the birth of their child, Mother and Father agreed that Father would pay Mother a lump sum of $6500 and that his parental rights would be terminated. They sought the court's enforcement of their agreement, arguing that they should have the same rights to determine their parenthood as do persons conceiving children through artificial technologies. The trial court accepted this argument, finding that the parents had made a careful consideration that the best interests of the child would not be served by the sporadic contact with Father that they envisioned for the future.
The court of appeals reversed, holding that "Parents have no right, in California, to waive or limit by agreement a child's right to support.... Public policy intervenes to protect the child's continued right to support. A judgment so terminating parental rights and the attendant obligation to support the child is void as a breach of public policy and as an act in excess of the court's jurisdiction." The court distinguished the situations in which a father's parental rights are terminated in sperm donor cases as instances in which agreements are made pre-conception and without which no child would be born. The court concluded that the trial court had no power to terminate rights outside the statutory standards for dependency, emancipation and adoption proceedings. The court concluded: "How can matters that reside in the realm of human emotion and the bonds of intimacy be subject to contract or agreement, let alone serve as a basis for a court decision?"
Kristine M. v. David P., 2006 Cal. App. LEXIS 34 (January 13, 2006)
Text of the opinion is on the web at http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/opinions/documents/A109655.PDF (last visited January 13, 2006 bgf)