The California Court of Appeal’s recent decision in Guardianship of L.V. has established an important precedent for parents who place their children under the temporary care of family members or other parties. In Guardianship of L.V., the family was experiencing some difficulties. The father struggled with an alcohol addiction, the parents separated, and the mother was hospitalized. While the mother was in the hospital, the mother placed their 11 year old daughter in the care of the child’s aunt and uncle.
Over a year later, the child was still living with the aunt and uncle, and the aunt and uncle filed a petitioner seeking appointment as the child’s guardians. A court investigator recommended that the petitioner be granted and the parents agreed to a schedule of visitation with the child. Two years later the parents had put their lives back together. The father was now employed and was no longer abusing alcohol and the mother’s health issues were resolved. Nonetheless, the aunt and uncle opposed the parent’s petition for termination of the guardianship. The aunt and uncle stated that when the child left her mother’s care three years prior, the child was malnourished, performing below grade level at her school, and experienced difficulty functioning socially. The parties did agree that the child’s parents were able to provide the child with “adequate” food, clothing, shelter, and guidance, but “adequate” care was not enough. The Court denied the parents’ request to terminate the guardianship, finding that it would not be in the best interests of the child to do so. In its opinion, the Court cited another case which stated “children are not dogwood trees, to be uprooted, replanted, then replanted again for expediency’s sake.” The child herself stated that she did not want to leave the aunt and uncle’s care and did not want to leave the home, school, and church which she had been a part of for three years.
This decision may come as a surprise to those who would expect that the Court would only favor aunts and uncles over parents in the most egregious of circumstances. But the Court makes their decisions based upon what is in the best interest of the child. And in this situation, even though these parents were able to provide “adequate” care for the child, the Court found that it would not be in the child’s best interest to change homes once more and move back to her parents. This case may be good news for guardians who have grown attached to the children they are caring for, but it provides a cautionary tale for parents who may be experiencing some temporary difficulties and put their children in the care of friends or relatives until the parents are able to put their lives back together.