Landmark California Cases on Adoption Orders

After reunification services are terminated, the focus of a dependency proceeding shifts from preserving the family to promoting the best interests of the child, including the child's interest in a stable, permanent placement that allows the caregiver to make a full emotional commitment to the child. (In re Fernando M. (2006) 138 Cal.App.4th 529, 534.) At the selection and implementation hearing, the court has three options: (1) terminate parental rights and order adoption as the permanent plan; (2) appoint a legal guardian for the child; or (3) order the child placed in long-term foster care. (Ibid.) "Adoption, where possible, is the permanent plan preferred by the Legislature." (In re Autumn H., supra, 27 Cal.App.4th at p. 573.) If the court finds 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 termination of parental rights would be detrimental to the child under one of five specified exceptions. (Welfare and Institutions Code 366.26, subd. (c)(1)(A)-(E); In re Erik P. (2002) 104 Cal.App.4th 395, 401.) Welfare and Institutions Code Section 366.26, subdivision (c)(1)(B)(i) provides an exception to the adoption preference if termination of parental rights would be detrimental to the child because "the parents have maintained regular visitation and contact with the child and the child would benefit from continuing the relationship." The Court interpreted the phrase "benefit from continuing the relationship" to refer to a parent-child relationship that "promotes the well-being of the child to such a degree as to outweigh the well-being the child would gain in a permanent home with new, adoptive parents. In other words, the court balances the strength and quality of the natural parent-child relationship in a tenuous placement against the security and the sense of belonging a new family would confer. If severing the natural parent-child relationship would deprive the child of a substantial, positive emotional attachment such that the child would be greatly harmed, the preference for adoption is overcome and the natural parent's rights are not terminated." (In re Autumn H., supra, 27 Cal.App.4th at p. 575; accord In re Zachary G., supra, 77 Cal.App.4th at p. 811.) To meet the burden of proof for this statutory exception, the parent must show more than frequent and loving contact, an emotional bond with the child, or pleasant visits. (In re Derek W. (1999) 73 Cal.App.4th 823, 827.) At the selection and implementation hearing, the juvenile court must choose one of four alternative permanent plans for a minor. The permanent plan preferred by the Legislature is adoption. If the minor is adoptable, the court must terminate parental rights absent a showing of detriment to the minor. (In re Ronell A. (1996) 44 Cal.App.4th 1352, 1368.) The parent has the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that a statutory exception to adoption applies. (In re Valerie A. (2007) 152 Cal.App.4th 987, 998; In re Zachary G. (1999) 77 Cal.App.4th 799, 809.) We uphold a juvenile court's ruling declining to find such an exception if the ruling is supported by substantial evidence. (In re Zachary G., at p. 809.) To prove the beneficial parental relationship exception applies, mother must show she has "maintained regular visitation and contact with the child and the child would benefit from continuing the relationship." ( 366.26, subd. (c)(1)(B)(i).) It is not enough simply to show "some benefit to the child from a continued relationship with the parent, or some detriment from termination of parental rights." (In re Jasmine D., supra, 78 Cal.App.4th at p. 1349.) There must be a significant, positive emotional attachment between mother and child. (In re Beatrice M. (1994) 29 Cal.App.4th 1411, 1418-1419.) "Because a section 366.26 hearing occurs only after the court has repeatedly found the parent unable to meet the child's needs, it is only in an extraordinary case that preservation of the parent's rights will prevail over the Legislature's preference for adoptive placement." (In re Jasmine D., supra, 78 Cal.App.4th at p. 1350.)