Chantal S., In re

Decision Date22 April 1996
Docket NumberNo. S046778,S046778
Parties, 913 P.2d 1075, 96 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 2794, 96 Daily Journal D.A.R. 4617 In re CHANTAL S., a Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. RIVERSIDE COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SOCIAL SERVICES, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. RANDALL S., Defendant and Appellant.
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court

Thomas L. Hardy, under appointment by the Supreme Court, Bishop, for Defendant and Appellant.

William C. Katzenstein, County Counsel, and Jennifer Williams, Deputy County Counsel, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

Lloyd M. Harmon, Jr., San Diego County Counsel, Susan Strom, Chief Deputy County Counsel, and Patrice Plattner-Grainger, Deputy County Counsel, as Amici Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Respondent.

Lawrence R. Stidham, under appointment by the Supreme Court, Bishop, for Minor.

LUCAS, Chief Justice.

May a juvenile court, when terminating its dependency jurisdiction, issue an order conditioning visitation on a parent's participation in a counseling program? If so, is the juvenile court bound by the requirements of Family Code section 3190, which governs counseling orders issued by a family court? The Court of Appeal answered these questions "yes" and "no" respectively, thereby creating a conflict with In re Katherine M. (1994) 27 Cal.App.4th 91, 33 Cal.Rptr.2d 298 (Katherine M.). We granted review to resolve the conflict, and affirm.


At the outset it is helpful to clarify the distinction between a "juvenile court," and its orders, and a "family court," and its orders. A "juvenile court" is a superior court exercising limited jurisdiction arising under juvenile law. (In re Lisa R. (1975) 13 Cal.3d 636, 643, 119 Cal.Rptr. 475, 532 P.2d 123.) Dependency proceedings in the juvenile court are special proceedings with their own set of rules, governed, in general, by the Welfare and Institutions Code. By contrast, "family court" refers to the activities of one or more superior court judicial officers who handle litigation arising under the Family Code. It is not a separate court with special jurisdiction, but is instead the superior court performing one of its general duties. (See Edwards, The Relationship of Family and Juvenile Courts in Child Abuse Cases (1987) 27 Santa Clara L.Rev. 201, 202, fn. 3 (Edwards).)

The two courts have separate purposes. The family court is established to provide parents a forum in which to resolve, inter alia, private issues relating to the custody of and visitation with children. In that setting, parents are presumed to be fit and capable of raising their children. (Fam.Code, § 3061.) The juvenile court, by contrast, provides the state a forum to "restrict parental behavior regarding children, ... and ... to remove children from the custody of their parents or guardians." (Edwards, supra, 27 Santa Clara L.Rev. at p. 206, fns. omitted.) When, as in this matter, a juvenile court hears a dependency case under section 300 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, the court deals with children who have been seriously abused, abandoned, or neglected. The juvenile court has a special responsibility to the child as parens patriae and must look to the totality of a child's circumstances when making decisions regarding the child. (In re Roger S. (1992) 4 Cal.App.4th 25, 30-31, 5 Cal.Rptr.2d 208 (Roger S.).) Accordingly, although both courts focus on the best interests of the child, "[t]he presumption of parental fitness that underlies custody law in the family court ... does not apply to dependency cases" decided in the juvenile court. (In re Jennifer R. (1993) 14 Cal.App.4th 704, 712, 17 Cal.Rptr.2d 759 (Jennifer R.).)


Pursuant to a family court order that is not part of the record herein, Lori K. (mother) was awarded custody of her daughter, Chantal S. Defendant Randall S. (father) was granted visitation. Thereafter, Chantal was adjudged a dependent child of the juvenile court under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivisions (b) and (c) (all statutory references are to this code unless otherwise indicated), based on findings that, inter alia, father was violent and mother was unable to protect Chantal, leaving the child at substantial risk of suffering emotional damage. Shortly after the dependency finding, father was sentenced to three years in prison on charges not directly related to the allegations underlying this matter. The juvenile court ordered counseling for Chantal.

At a subsequent review hearing, the social worker assigned to the case recommended the dependency be terminated, and mother be granted sole legal and physical custody, on the ground that mother had successfully complied with the "service plan" devised for her by the department of social services, and Chantal was no longer in need of the court's protection. Father, still incarcerated at the time, objected to termination of the juvenile court's jurisdiction.

During a contested hearing on the termination recommendation, the juvenile court repeatedly asserted its intention to "make appropriate family law orders" that would place conditions on father's right to visitation. The court granted legal and physical custody of Chantal to mother, and announced it would terminate dependency after counsel for Chantal prepared a "family law order" containing specific conditions of visitation.

The order that was subsequently submitted to, and signed by, the juvenile court reiterated that physical and legal custody was granted to mother, mandated that mother keep Chantal in counseling as recommended by Chantal's therapist, and provided: "Dependency is ordered terminated upon filing of [this] formal order in the appropriate family law court."

The order placed conditions on father's visitation rights as follows: "Visitation ... for father ... to be facilitated by [Chantal's] therapist, Diane Childs. [p] Before visitation with father and his daughter can occur, father must be: [p] 1. In psychotherapy with a therapist qualified to work with issues such as [father]'s. [p] 2. Father must attend therapy regularly and make satisfactory progress for a time before any visits as determined by his therapist. [p] 3. At the time that visits are scheduled to begin, [father] must sign a release of information to Ms. Childs to obtain information from his therapist regarding progress in therapy and to allow Ms. Childs to relay issues she sees during visits that are of a concern for her. [p] 4. Father will be financially responsible for these visits. Payment to be at the beginning of all visits. [p] 5. Visits will be in Ms. Child[s'] office; Familiar surroundings for Chantal."

The order was filed under a superior court family law case number, and the dependency proceeding was dismissed. Father appealed from the custody order, claiming it improperly required him to submit to counseling as a condition of visitation, and unlawfully delegated judicial authority to therapists. The Court of Appeal rejected both assertions, and affirmed the order.

A. Authority of the Juvenile Court, on Termination of Dependency Jurisdiction, to Require Counseling as a Condition of Custody or Visitation

Section 362.4 states: "When the juvenile court terminates its jurisdiction over a minor who has been adjudged a dependent child of the juvenile court ... the juvenile court on its own motion, may issue ... an order determining the custody of, or visitation with, the child." The section further provides that on termination of dependency, an order determining visitation with the child "shall be filed in the [existing family law proceeding], at the time the juvenile court terminates its jurisdiction over the minor, and shall become a part thereof. [p] If no action is filed or pending relating to the custody of the minor in the superior court of any county, the juvenile court order may be used as the sole basis for opening a file in the superior court of the county in which the parent, who has been given custody, resides." (Ibid.) As explained in Roger S., supra, 4 Cal.App.4th 25, 30, 5 Cal.Rptr.2d 208, "When the juvenile court terminates its jurisdiction over a dependent child, section 362.4 authorizes it to make custody and visitation orders that will be transferred to an existing family court file and remain in effect until modified or terminated by the superior court."

Section 362, subdivision (c) (section 362(c)), provides: "The juvenile court may direct any and all reasonable orders to the parents ... of the minor who is the subject of any proceedings under this chapter.... Such an order may include a direction to participate in a counseling ... program.... The program in which a parent ... is required to participate shall be designed to eliminate those conditions that led to the court's finding that the minor is a person described by Section 300."

The court in Katherine M., supra, 27 Cal.App.4th 91, 33 Cal.Rptr.2d 298, held these sections did not authorize a juvenile court, on termination of dependency jurisdiction, to require a parent to submit to counseling as a condition of custody. The court found section 362.4 inapplicable because, it reasoned, that section permits only orders "determining custody of or visitation with" a minor, and it does not permit orders placing conditions on custody or visitation. (Katherine M., supra, 27 Cal.App.4th at p. 97, 33 Cal.Rptr.2d 298, citing In re Sarah M. (1991) 233 Cal.App.3d 1486, 1503, 285 Cal.Rptr. 374 [section 362.4 does not authorize orders "relating to" custody or visitation] (Sarah M.).) The Court of Appeal below disagreed, concluding that section 362.4 implicitly allows such orders: "[It is] inconceivable that the statute, which authorizes a court to make orders touching upon custody and visitation, would not also inherently authorize collateral orders reasonably and necessarily related to custody and visitation. [p] In the present case the...

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