The juvenile court shall conduct a further hearing to consider the legal sufficiency of mother’s offer of proof regarding the parental relationship exception to adoption. A.G., a four-year-old, was declared a dependent and placed in out-of-home care after his mother drove with him in the car while under the influence twice on successive days. Mother visited regularly with the minor but struggled to maintain sobriety and family reunification services were terminated at the 12-month review hearing. Mother requested a contested section 366.26 hearing, arguing that the beneficial parental relationship exception to adoption applied. Upon the court’s request, mother submitted a written offer of proof which included proposed testimony of various witnesses about the close relationship between mother and A.G. The court found the offer of proof insufficient, and denied her request for a contested hearing on the claimed exception. The court terminated mother’s parental rights and she appealed. The appellate court reversed and remanded to consider the legal sufficiency of mother’s offer of proof in support of the beneficial parental relationship exception. Although at the 366.26 hearing the focus is on the need for permanency and stability for the child, it is also in the child’s best interest for the parent to be given the opportunity to establish the parental relationship exception to adoption. The juvenile court will not terminate parental rights if it finds a compelling reason for determining that termination would be detrimental to the child because “[t]he parents have maintained regular visitation and contact with the child and the child would benefit from continuing the relationship.” (§ 366.26(c)(1)(B)(i).) The juvenile court may, in its discretion and consistent with due process, condition a contested hearing concerning this exception upon submission of an offer of proof. (In re Tamika T. (2002) 97 Cal.App.4th 1114, 1122.) The offer of proof must be adequate in scope and must be specific, addressing two components of the parental relationship exception: (1) the parent’s regular contact with the child, and (2) the existence of a beneficial parent-child relationship. A legally sufficient offer of proof must be “specific, setting forth the actual evidence to be produced, not merely the facts or issues to be addressed and argued.” (Id. at p. 1124.) When the parent has addressed the two necessary components but there is some question about the offer’s adequacy, the juvenile court should find the parent’s offer of proof legally sufficient and order a contested hearing. The offer of proof need not address the third component of the parental relationship exception, namely, “whether the existence of that relationship constitutes a compelling reason for determining that termination would be detrimental to the child.” (In re Caden C. (2019) 34 Cal App.5th 87, 104.) Here, the scope of mother’s offer of proof was adequate. She identified nine potential witnesses and included matters that were unquestionably relevant to the parental relationship exception including mother’s relationship and continuing contact with the minor, the minor’s statement that he wanted to return home with mother, and the detriment that would result from termination of the relationship. It is not clear from the record whether the juvenile court improperly exercised its discretion (1) by requiring that mother address all three components of the exception; and (2) in addressing whether the proffer met the specificity requirements of Tamika T. In the interests of justice and furtherance of the minor’s best interests, the juvenile court shall conduct a further hearing to consider the legal sufficiency of mother’s offer of proof consistent with this opinion.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/H047951.PDF