Guardianship Cases and Parental Unfitness

The drama surrounding Ariel Winters of Modern Family fame and her 32 year-old sister's quest to obtain guardianship over her brings to mind a guardianship case titled Guardianship of Christian G. (2011) 195 Cal.App.4th 581.

In Guardianship of Christian G., Christian's uncle filed a guardianship petition seeking to become the child's guardian, alleging that the child's father (the uncle's brother), was unfit because he was mentally unstable and did not provide safe and healthy living conditions for his son. The trial court appointed the uncle as the temporary guardian and appointed a probate investigator to look further into the case. However, the court failed to refer the matter to Child Protective Services (CPS), nor did it appoint an attorney for the child's father. The probate investigator then issued a report that was used as a basis by the trial court to appoint the uncle and his wife as Christian's permanent guardians. The court found clear and convincing evidence from the probate investigator's report that it would be harmful for the child to be with his father at that time.

The father appealed, arguing that the trial court violated Probate Code section 1513 (c), and that he was denied due process. Probate Code section 1513 (c) requires the court to refer a guardianship matter to CPS when any party alleges that the parent is unfit, as defined by Welfare and Institutions Code section 300. The referral to CPS is mandatory. Accordingly, the trial court should have referred the case to CPS, and CPS would then determine whether it should initiate dependency proceedings. Once the case have been referred to CPS for a dependency investigation, both the father and son would have been entitled to counsel. Based on this, the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's decision; however, the temporary guardianship remained in force pending future proceedings.

*This blog entry was not written by an Attorney and should not be construed as professional legal advice.

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