California Landmark Cases on Adoption After Parental Rights Terminated

"Adoption, where possible, is the permanent plan preferred by the Legislature." (In re Autumn H. (1994) 27 Cal.App.4th 567, 573.) If the court finds that a child cannot be returned to his or her parent and is likely to be adopted if parental rights are terminated, it must select adoption as the permanent plan unless it finds that termination would be detrimental to the child under one of five specified exceptions. ( 366.26, subd. (c)(1)(B)(i)-(vi); In re Erik P. (2002) 104 Cal.App.4th 395, 401.) California Welfare and Institutions Code Section 366.26, subdivision (c)(1)(B)(v) provides an exception to terminating parental rights when the juvenile court finds that there is a compelling reason for determining that termination would be detrimental to the child due to substantial interference with a child's sibling relationship. Factors to be considered include the nature and extent of the sibling relationship, whether the child was raised with a sibling in the same home, and whether the child has strong bonds with a sibling. The court must also consider whether ongoing contact with the sibling is in the child's best interest, including the child's long-term emotional interest, as compared to the benefit of legal permanence through adoption. (Ibid.; see also In re L.Y.L. (2002) 101 Cal.App.4th 942, 951-952.) The purpose of this exception is to preserve long-standing sibling relationships that serve as "anchors for dependent children" whose lives are in turmoil. (In re Erik P., supra, 104 Cal.App.4th at p. 404.) "The court should carefully consider all evidence regarding the sibling relationship as it relates to possible detriment to the adoptive child." (In re Celine R. (2003) 31 Cal.4th 45, 55.) "The court may reject adoption under this sibling relationship provision only if it finds adoption would be detrimental to the child whose welfare is being considered." (Id. at pp. 49-50.) Similar to the beneficial parent-child relationship exception, application of the sibling relationship exception requires a balancing of interests. (In re L.Y.L., supra, 101 Cal.App.4th at p. 951.) However, the parents have the burden to show: (1) the existence of a significant sibling relationship; (2) that termination of parental rights would substantially interfere with that relationship; and (3) that it would be detrimental to the child if the relationship ended. (Id. at p. 952.) Once the parent establishes that a sibling relationship is so strong that its severance would be detrimental to the adoptive child, the court then decides whether the benefit to the child of continuing the sibling relationship outweighs the benefit of adoption. (Id. at pp. 952-953.) "The court may terminate parental rights only if it determines by clear and convincing evidence the minor is likely to be adopted. (Welfare and Institutions Code 366.26, subd. (c)(1).) The statute requires clear and convincing evidence of the likelihood adoption will be realized within a reasonable time. In determining adoptability, the focus is on whether a child's age, physical condition and emotional state will create difficulty in locating a family willing to adopt. To be considered adoptable, a minor need not be in a prospective adoptive home and there need not be a prospective adoptive parent '"waiting in the wings."' Nevertheless, 'the fact that a prospective adoptive parent has expressed interest in adopting the minor is evidence that the minor's age, physical condition, mental state, and other matters relating to the child are not likely to dissuade individuals from adopting the minor. In other words, a prospective adoptive parent's willingness to adopt generally indicates the minor is likely to be adopted within a reasonable time either by the prospective adoptive parent or by some other family.'" (In re R.C. (2008) 169 Cal.App.4th 486, 491.) There are two alternative methods of demonstrating adoptability. "General adoptability" is demonstrated when an Agency proves that a child's personal characteristics are sufficiently appealing that it is likely an adoptive family will be located for the child in a reasonable time, regardless of whether a prospective adoptive family has yet been found. "Specific adoptability" refers to an Agency's demonstration that it has located a committed adoptive family for a child whose adoptability is otherwise in question, most often because the child is part of a sibling group, has a physical or mental disability requiring a high level of care, or is relatively old. (See 366.26, subd. (c)(3).) When a prospective adoptive family has been found for such a child, the child is found likely to be adopted, not in the abstract, but because that specific adoptive family has committed to adoption. (See, e.g., In re Carl R. (2005) 128 Cal.App.4th 1051, 1060-1061; In re Sarah M. (1994) 22 Cal.App.4th 1642, 1649-1650.) Because specific adoptability depends upon a successful adoption by the designated prospective adoptive family, the judicial inquiry must, to a limited degree, include that family. "When a child is deemed adoptable only because a particular caretaker is willing to adopt, the analysis shifts from evaluating the characteristics of the child to whether there is any legal impediment to the prospective adoptive parent's adoption and whether he or she is able to meet the needs of the child." (In re Helen W. (2007) 150 Cal.App.4th 71 at p. 80.) This limited inquiry into the characteristics of the prospective adoptive family is necessary because a demonstration that the family is legally prevented from adopting or is incapable of caring for a child with special needs would preclude a finding of adoptability. (See, e.g., In re Carl R., supra, 128 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1061-1062; In re Sarah M., supra, 22 Cal.App.4th at p. 1650.) Nonetheless, even in these situations this inquiry must be balanced against the concern that "if an inquiry into the suitability of prospective adoptive parents were permitted at the section 366.26 hearing, many hearings would degenerate into subjective attacks on those prospective adoptive parents--a result not envisioned by the statutory scheme. Those types of inquiries might also discourage people from seeking to adopt, a result that would contravene the strong public policy favoring adoption." (In re Carl R., at pp. 1061-1062.) "When reviewing a court's finding a minor is adoptable, we apply the substantial evidence test. If, on the entire record, there is substantial evidence to support the findings of the juvenile court, we must uphold those findings. We do not pass on the credibility of witnesses, attempt to resolve conflicts in the evidence or weigh the evidence. Rather, our task is to determine whether there is substantial evidence from which a reasonable trier of fact could find, by clear and convincing evidence, that the minor is adoptable. The appellant has the burden of showing there is no evidence of a sufficiently substantial nature to support the finding or order." (In re R.C., supra, 169 Cal.App.4th at p. 491.)