Due Process Requirement Before a California Court Terminates Parental Rights

In re G.S.R. (2008) 159 Cal.App.4th 1202, teaches that before a court terminates parental rights, due process requires the court to find, by clear and convincing evidence, that a parent is unfit. (Id. at pp. 1205, 1210-1211.) In that case, the Court held the order terminating the father's rights violated due process because there was no judicial finding he was unfit, nor could there have been -- the record did not support a finding of detriment. (G.S.R., supra, 159 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1212, 1214-1215.) The father was both a nonoffending and noncustodial parent. (Id. at p. 1211.) He had a history of domestic violence and substance abuse, but the evidence showed he had resolved those issues before the court took jurisdiction. (Ibid.) He had been involved with his children throughout their lives, provided financial support, visited regularly, participated in their schooling, and maintained contact with DCFS even when he lacked a place to live. (Id. at p. 1212.) The court ordered him to attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings as part of the case plan, which he did for 20 weeks and then stopped. (Id. at pp. 1207, 1212-1213.) The court made detriment findings at two review hearings based on the father's lack of housing and failure to attend AA meetings. (Id. at pp. 1207, 1208, 1213.) The Court concluded the record strongly suggested the only reason the father did not obtain custody of his children "was his inability to obtain suitable housing for financial reasons" because his sobriety was never in issue, and there was no evidence his failure to attend AA meetings endangered the children. (Id. at pp. 1212, 1213.) The Court held the father's lack of housing and poverty alone could not support a finding of detriment, particularly when DCFS might have assisted the father to obtain affordable housing but did not do so. (Id. at p. 1213.) The Court reversed the order terminating parental rights and remanded the case to the juvenile court with instructions to "revisit the issue of whether, based on the facts and circumstances as they exist at this time, there exist legally sufficient grounds to find it would be detrimental to return the boys to the father, recognizing poverty is not such a ground." (Id. at p. 1215.)