Family Law Prof Blog

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

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Case Law Development: California Appeals Court Rejects Michael Jackson’s Bid to Uphold Termination Order

California's 2nd District Court of Appeals refused to uphold a parental termination order between Michael Jackson and Debbie Rowe in which she had agreed not to contact their children following their divorce in 2000. She later gave up her parental rights. However, in 2004 Ms Rowe persuaded a Los Angeles Superior Court judge to overturn the order terminating her parental rights.

Jackson argued that because he did not stipulate to terminate Ms. Rowe’s parental rights, did not sign any document agreeing to the termination, did not attend the hearing on her motion to terminate, and did not have any advance notice she intended to move to terminate her parental rights, that the public policy calling for rejection of stipulated agreements in termination cases was not applicable. The court, however, said that it found “substantial evidence” in the record supporting the trial court’s finding that the termination hearing was a stipulated proceeding.

The court said that the termination order exceeded the trial court’s jurisdiction and contravenes “the public policy favoring that a child has two parents rather than one.” It also said that a court cannot enter a judgment terminating parental rights “based solely upon the parties’ stipulation that the child’s mother or father relinquishes those rights. . . . Where the welfare of children is involved as in divorce cases, parents cannot by contract so bind themselves as to foreclose the court from an inquiry as to what that welfare requires.”

The court also said that even if Mr. Jackson was correct, and he did not effectively stipulate to terminate Ms. Rowe’s parental rights, the result would be no different if based solely on her uncontested motion to terminate her parental rights. The reason for this is that the trial court had granted the requested termination without first ordering an investigation of the children’s circumstances by the Department of Children and Family Services or other appropriate agency as required by Family Code. It held that Ms. Rowe’s collateral attack on that order was not precluded by California law. Source: BBC News, Please click here for the complete news story (last visited February 19, 2006, reo). Download here the slip opinion of the California Court of Appeals, Second District, In_re_Michael_Jackson.pdf (reo)

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