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Name: In re Valerie A.
Case #: D049901
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 06/26/2007

The juvenile court properly found that the permanency of adoption outweighed the interference with the minors relationship with their older half sister. Mother appealed from the order terminating her parental rights to her four-year-old twin daughters, contending that she was denied a fair opportunity to litigate the sibling relationship exception to termination of parental rights. The twins had a strong bond with an older half-sibling who had been adopted by the maternal grandmother. Visitation had been cut off ten months prior to the 366.26 hearing because the juvenile court found it would be detrimental to the twins due to the hostile relationships between the twins’ foster parent and the grandmother and members of her family. The appellate court found that the trial court did not err when it suspended sibling visitation. Because the conduct of the maternal relatives posed a risk to the children’s safety, the court properly exercised discretion when it suspended sibling visitation. Further, the lack of sibling visitation did not prevent mother from litigating the application of the sibling exception. Mother effectively showed that the siblings had almost daily contact before visitation was suspended. She also entered into evidence favorable reports concerning the sibling bond. There was no error by allowing the social worker to observe the visitation and denying a request for a neutral observer to be present. There was no basis on which to conclude the social worker would not be an objective reporter. The expert witness who testified as to the children’s bonds was a neutral observer. Further, mother was provided the opportunity to cross examine the social worker and question her objectivity. The record supported the conclusion that the sibling exception did not apply. Even though the children’s bonds were beneficial, due to their ages and needs, they were better served by the permanency of adoption. Further, the termination of parental rights did not necessarily foreclose the continuation of the sibling relationships. Nor would a different permanent plan have guaranteed maintenance of the relationships.