California Probate Code Section 1516.5 - Interpretation

In Guardianship of Ann S. (2009) 45 Cal.4th 1110, the statute at issue was Probate Code section 1516.5, which authorizes a guardian to obtain an order terminating parental rights to permit adoption by the guardian. The Ann S. court concluded that the absence of a parental unfitness requirement did not render the statute facially unconstitutional because it did not apply to custodial parents but only affected parents whose rights had been suspended for an extended period of probate guardianship. (Ann S., supra, 45 Cal.4th at pp. 1129-1130.) In a companion case to Ann S., the California Supreme Court concluded that the absence of a parental unfitness requirement in Probate Code section 1516.5 could support a constitutional challenge as applied in a particular case, for example, when a fully committed, responsible, and capable parent finds an extended probate guardianship unavoidable under exigent circumstances. (In re Charlotte D. (2009) 45 Cal.4th 1140, 1142-1143, 1148-1149.) When evaluating the probate guardianship statutory scheme (which incorporates section 3041 for use at the custody stage), our high court suggested that the enactment of Probate Code section 1516.5--which permits termination of parental rights solely under the best interest of the child standard--could raise the question of whether the standards applied at the custody stage of the guardianship proceedings provide adequate protection to parental rights. However, the court did not resolve this issue because in the case before it the parent had consented to the guardianship. (Ann S., supra, at pp. 1123-1124, 1134-1135 & fns. 16-17.)