January 10, 2006
Case Law Development: Terminating Reunification Services to One Parent Only
The California Court of Appeals clarified the trial court's authority to terminate reunification services in child abuse and neglect actions. In this case, the trial court had terminated father's reunification services at a 12-month review hearing, while at the same time extending reunification services to the child's mother to the 18-month review date. Father argued that this violated the trial court's statutory authority and was an abuse of discretion and a violation of his substantive due process.
While noting that a trial court's discretion to terminate reunification services at an earlier stage is extremely limited, the court found that a trial court may terminate reunification services to a parent at the 12-month review and that it may do so without immediately setting the case for a termination of parental rights hearing. Moreover, the court found that "when reunification efforts continue for one parent after the 12-month review hearing, a court has the discretion to offer services to the nonreunifying parent, and in many cases may choose to do so. However, there is a secondary rationale for limiting services to the nonreunifying parent. The Legislature has recognized that in some circumstances, it may be fruitless to provide reunification services.... In such a case, the general rule favoring reunification services is replaced by a legislative assumption that offering services would be an unwise use of governmental resources.... Under these circumstances, the termination of reunification services to one parent is rationally related to the legitimate government interest in focusing government resources on the parent who has consistently visited the child, made significant progress in resolving problems, and demonstrated the capacity and ability both to complete the treatment plan and provide for the child's needs."
In re Alanna A., 2005 Cal. App. LEXIS 2028 (January 9, 2006)
Opinion on the web at http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/opinions/documents/D046690.PDF (last visited January 10, 2006 bgf)