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Name: In re N.M.
Case #: B315559
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 02/01/2023
Subsequent History: Ordered published 3/2/2023

The juvenile court’s exit orders were an abuse of discretion where they sought to punish Father rather than serve the best interests of the minor. The minor was removed from Mother due to alcohol abuse and was released to the previously noncustodial Father. The minor continued to live in maternal grandmother’s home because Father’s work schedule did not allow him to care for the minor full time. Mother completed her court-ordered case plan, but Father did not comply with drug testing orders, and visited with the minor inconsistently due to his work schedule. At the final review hearing, the juvenile court granted Mother full physical custody of the minor because Father “hasn’t done a thing.” Father appealed and the Court of Appeal reversed. The juvenile court’s order granting Mother sole physical custody was not supported by substantial evidence. The juvenile court made no express finding that granting sole physical custody to Mother would be in the minor’s best interest. Rather, the court seemingly granted Mother sole physical custody to avoid rewarding Father, who had not meaningfully participated in the case plan. There was no express finding that Father’s failure to drug test or his inconsistent visitation impacted the minor. Father was never deemed an offending parent and no evidence suggested that his drug use impacted the children in any way. This was an abuse of discretion because an exit order must serve the best interests of the children, not reward or punish one parent or another. The portion of the order granting Mother sole physical custody was reversed.