Appellate Jurisdiction,  Appellate Procedure,  California Procedure,  Family Law

Siblings are Siblings Regardless of Parental Rights Termination

Catherine’s parental rights to Jose were terminated by the court. A few years later, she gave birth to Miguel and Miguel sought sibling visitation with Jose. (Welf. & Inst. Code, ยง 388.) In In re Miguel A., case no. D050694 (4th Dist. Oct. 24, 2007), the trial court denied the petition for visitation on the ground that Miguel and Jose never concurrently shared a parent because of the termination of Catherine’s parental rights prior to Miguel’s birth, and thus they were not siblings. The Court of Appeal finds error as a matter of law.

Since section 388, subdivision (b) permits sibling status to be proven by blood, adoption, or “affinity through a common legal or biological parent,” Miguel’s and Jose’s common biological mother suffices to establish they are siblings in the first instance. An order terminating parental rights affects only the relationship between the parent and child; their relationships to other biological relatives remains unaffected. A finding to the contrary would violate strong public policy in support of maintaining sibling relationships.

The fact that Miguel and Jose had no preexisting relationship when their mother’s rights to Jose were terminated — because Miguel had not even been born yet — doesn’t alter these considerations. Their biological relation remains.

The appellate procedure angle: It’s all moot. Because Jose had been adopted, the juvenile court lacked jurisdiction to order visitation with him. But the court decides to answer the question anyway because the case “raises important issues that are capable of repetition but likely to evade review,” and affirms even though it finds the trial court erred.