Guardianship of Phillip B.
139 Cal.App.2d 407, 188 Cal.Rptr. 781 (1983)
Phillip was born with Downs
Syndrome and a heart defect. His parents, Warren and Patricia, decided to
have Phillip institutionalized as opposed to taking care of him
They felt that they didn't
have the ability to take care of a disabled child.
They left him there for
years, with decreasing numbers of visits. They also took no action to
remedy his heart condition.
But they did notice Phillip
wasn't being cared for properly and so they moved him to another, better
Phillip was transferred to a
small residential facility for the developmentally disabled. The facility
staff encouraged volunteers to come help with the kids. The Haights began
volunteering at the facility and developed an attachment to Phillip.
Phillip stayed at the
Haight's home on occasion, and began referring to them as Mom and Dad.
He didn't even know what
his real Mom and Dad looked like.
Phillips' condition greatly
improved due to the time and attention the Haight's spent with him.
Warren and Patricia refused to
authorize surgery for Phillip, calling the procedure 'life-prolonging' and
not 'life saving'.
Phillips' heart problems
were potentially fatal, but also easily curable with surgery.
When Warren and Patricia found
out that Phillip had been spending a lot of time with the Haights, they
forbid them from seeing him and tried to have Phillip removed to another
Phillip was very distraught
and wanted to be reunited with the Haights.
The Haights petitioned to be
appointed Phillip's legal guardians.
The Trial Court granted the
Haight's legal guardianship of Phillip. Warren and Patricia appealed.
The Trial Court found that
an award of custody to Warren and Patricia would be detrimental to
Phillip in light of the psychological or de facto parental relationship established between him
and the Haights.
Note that the trial-type
stuff got very complicated. There were orders issued and stays of orders
issued and it went up to the California Supreme Court twice. But the
basic point is that the formal, final order granting legal guardianship
to the Haights' got back to the Appellate Court.
The Appellate Court affirmed.
The Appellate Court looked
to California law, and found that the "rights of parents to retain
custody is fundamental and may not be disturbed" except in
"extreme cases of persons acting in a fashion incompatible with
In addition, before issuing
an award of custody to a non-parent without the consent of the parents,
the court shell "make a finding that an award of custody would be
detrimental to the child and the award to a non-parent is required to
serve the best interests of the
The Appellate Court agreed
with the Trial Court that Warren and Patricia's "calculated decision
to remain emotionally and physically detached, abdicating the
conventional role of competent decision-maker in times of demonstrated
need, effectively deprived Phillip of any of the substantial benefits of
a true parental relationship."
The basic rule when making
custody decisions is that courts cannot go straight to a best interests test to determine custody when it is a parent
vs. a non-parent, because there is a parental presumption that a parent has a fundamental right to raise their own child. It is only when the parental
presumption is rebutted with clear
and convincing evidence can the courts
consider best interests.
In this case, Warren and
Patricia emotionally abandoned
Phillip, and neglected
Phillip's medical needs. That was enough to rebut the parental