California Juvenile Court Jurisdiction to Modify a Terminating Parental Rights Order

A juvenile court lacks jurisdiction to modify or revoke an order terminating parental rights. (See In re David H. (1995) 33 Cal.App.4th 368, 385; In re Ronald V. (1993) 13 Cal.App.4th 1803, 1806-1807; accord, In re Jerred H. (2004) 121 Cal.App.4th 793, 796.) In David H., supra, the court explained, "As a general matter, it would be inimical to the policies underlying the juvenile court law to allow parents to raise a collateral challenge to an order terminating parental rights on the ground that the child's posttermination placement did not meet with the parents' expectations. Such relief is not available, whether the parents' expectations were not met because of an uncontrollable turn of fate or for any other reason . . . ." (33 Cal.App.4th at p. 385.) In Ronald V., supra, the biological mother of a minor had acquiesced in the termination of her parental rights, understanding that her son would be adopted by a particular friend. When the friend died before the adoption could take place, she petitioned for a modification of the section 366.26 order, requesting that the permanency plan of adoption be changed to long-term foster care or guardianship, and that she should be granted de facto parent status. The court held that "having failed to appeal from the termination order, the mother's petition to modify the permanency planning order was in substance a collateral attack on the termination of her parental rights" which the juvenile court lacked jurisdiction to consider. (13 Cal.App.4th at p. 1806.) Parental rights are terminated to permit the minor to become free for adoption. (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 1463(h).) "The rights of the mother, any presumed father, any alleged father, and any unknown father or fathers must be terminated in order to free the child for adoption." (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 1463(h).) Because the order terminating parental rights effectively and completely extinguished appellant's parental rights, appellant may not seek to modify the order and reinstate those rights now. (See In re David H., supra, 33 Cal.App.4th 368 ;385; In re Ronald V., supra, 13 Cal.App.4th 1803, 1806-1807; In re Heather B. (2002) 98 Cal.App.4th 11, 15.) In In re Elise K. (1982) 33 Cal.3d 138, the court reversed an order terminating parental rights based on the parties' stipulation that events occurring after the termination order was entered undermined the juvenile court's finding of adoptability. In In re Zeth S. (2003) 31 Cal.4th 396, 413, footnote 11, the court observed that "Elise K. therefore serves as precedent for the proposition that where postjudgment evidence stands to completely undermine the legal underpinnings of the juvenile court's judgment under review, and all parties recognize as much and express a willingness to stipulate to reversal of the juvenile court's judgment, an appellate court acts within its discretion in accepting such a stipulation and reversing the judgment."