Wednesday, September 17, 2003
Adult Sister Entitled to Presumed Parent Status in Dependency Proceeding, Court of Appeal Rules
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
A Kern County woman who raised her half-brother from infancy after their mother died in an accident, and who the child believed was his mother, is entitled to presumed parent status in a dependency proceeding involving the child, the Fifth District Court of Appeal has ruled.
The justices Monday certified for publication an Aug. 14 per curiam opinion reversing a Kern Superior Court judge’s ruling that denied the woman’s motion to be considered a presumed parent. Absent such status, the woman—who was identified only as Monica G. and was facing felony drug charges—would not be entitled to reunification services and could be permanently deprived of custody without a finding that returning the child to her would be detrimental to his well-being.
The child, Salvador M., is now nine years old. Monica G. was 18 and had a year-old daughter when Salvador was born.
Salvador was three years old when his mother died. His half-sister took him into her home and raised him, along with her daughter and a son, now three years old, until her arrest in November of last year.
After Monica G. was charged with possession of methamphetamine for sale, the children were placed with relatives. A county social worker interviewed Salvador, who said that Monica G. was his “Mom” and that her children were his “brother” and “sister.”
Salvador’s father could not be specifically identified. Family members said they were only told that he was a married man named “Juan.”
In her motion to establish maternity, Monica G. declared:
“Our mother died at the scene of an explosive car crash when Salvador was three. I have continued to care for Salvador as my child. He thinks of me as his mother and I think of him as my son. Our family knows of the actual relationship between Salvador and me and I have been truthful in official matters such as school registration, but to the rest of the world, Salvador is my son.”
Social workers confirmed the close bond between Monica G. and Salvador, and said that Monica G. wanted to reunify with the children and was cooperating toward that end. But Kern Superior Court Judge Michael Bush, following a hearing last February, agreed with the county that because Monica G. had acknowledged to school officials that she was Salvador’s sister, she had not held him out as her son and could not qualify for presumed parent status.
Bush ordered Salvador placed in long-term foster care, and granted Monica G. visitation rights.
But the appellate panel—Justice Nikolas Dibiaso, Thomas Harris, and Herbert Levy—said the county’s argument against presumed parent status “ignores the most compelling evidence that appellant held Salvador out as her own son—i.e., the fact that eight-year-old Salvador believed appellant was his mother.”
For the child to believe that, the justices reasoned, Monica G. and family members must have told him so. And for him not to know otherwise, the panel continued, “must mean that appellant held Salvador out to the community as her son.”
The case is In re Salvador M., F042652.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company