25 April 2012

Third District Court of Appeal Reaffirms Parent-Child Relationship as Fundamental, Constitutional Right

3rd District Ruling Confirms Illegality of Unjustified "No-Contact" Child Custody Orders

News Analysis & Opinion by PelicanBriefed

In a ruling issued yesterday, the Third District Court of Appeal in Sacramento confirmed the illegality of "no-contact" child custody orders issued routinely by Sacramento Family Court judges. As Sacramento Family Court News has reported, court records leaked by family court whistleblowers show that judges often effectively terminate the parental rights of unrepresented, indigent or financially disadvantaged litigants to punish a parent for asserting statutory or constitutional rights in court, or based on personality clashes between judges and pro per litigants. 

Court orders reviewed by SFCN which prohibit a parent from having any contact with their own children - a de facto termination of parental rights - reveal that the rulings are issued without any consideration of the best interests of the child, the only legal justification for such an order. The orders often offer no justification whatsoever. Equally troublesome, the unlawful rulings are almost always issued in cases where the winning parent is represented by a Sacramento County Bar Association Family Law Section divorce attorney who also serves as a temporary judge in the same court, or works at a law firm with a judge pro tem. Yesterday's opinion by the court of appeal, Adoption of HR, reaffirms that the parent-child relationship is a fundamental constitutional right not subject to rash "no-contact" orders which traumatize both parent and child. Click here to view the full 3rd District opinion. The decision includes this section on the parent-child relationship:       
"[E]stablishment of the parent-child relationship is the most fundamental right a child possesses to be equated in importance with personal liberty and the most basic of constitutional rights. [Citation.] Likewise, parents have a fundamental liberty interest in the custody, care, management and companionship of their children. [Citations.] Given the supremacy of these familial rights—of the child and of the parent—a decision to terminate parental rights is one of the gravest a court can make. Thus it is only under specified circumstances, and upon specific findings that include the interests of the child, that a court has authority to terminate parental rights. (Kristine M. v. David P. (2006) 135 Cal.App.4th 783, 791 [37 Cal.Rptr.3d 748].) 
Parenting is a fundamental right, and accordingly, is disturbed only in extreme cases of persons acting in a fashion incompatible with parenthood. (In re Carmaleta B. (1978) 21 Cal.3d 482, 489 [146 Cal.Rptr. 623, 579 P.2d 514].)We have previously recognized that the interest of a parent in the companionship, care, custody, and management of his children is a compelling one, ranked among the most basic of civil rights [citations] .... [Citations.] A parent's interest in maintaining a parent-child relationship is an extremely important interest [citation], and termination of that right by the state must be viewed as a drastic remedy `to be applied only in extreme cases [citation]. (Guardianship of Christian G. (2011) 195 Cal.App.4th 581, 597-598 [124 Cal.Rptr.3d 642].)" Internal quotes omitted. 

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