Wednesday, January 27, 2010

DSHS May Not Terminate Parental Rights Without First Offering the Parent Services to Correct Parenting Deficiencies

Our state’s Supreme Court recently affirmed that the statutory provision regarding the termination of parental rights means what it says. The state may not terminate parental rights to a child without offering the parent services to correct whatever parental deficiencies may form the basis of the termination petition.
In Welfare of C.S., docket No. 81720-1, DSHS brought termination proceedings against a mother with substance abuse problems. Pursuant to the termination statute, DSHS offered her drug treatment services.
Ultimately, the treatment worked. At the time of trial, the mother had been clean and sober for a year, verified by twice-weekly urinalysis. Nonetheless, DSHS refused to reunite mother and child, asserting that the mother was ill-equipped to handle the child, who had ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and some other issues.
DSHS refused to offer the mother services in how to manage the child, although it did offer such services to the foster parent. The trial court then terminated parental rights and the appellate court affirmed.
The Supremes reversed.

Marital Community Is Liable for Molesting Boy

Our state Supreme Court recently affirmed an appellate decision that I blogged April 22, 2008. In Clayton v. Wilson, Docket No. 81920-3, filed January 21, 2010, the Supremes held that Wilson’s marital community was liable for Wilson’s intentional torts because he committed them while conducting community business.
I laid out the sordid facts of this case in my last blog. Basically, Mr. Wilson hired the boy, Clayton, to do yardwork at his house. After completing the yardwork and before receiving payment, Mr. Wilson sexually abused him.
Immediately after Mr. Wilson’s abuse became known, Mr. and Mrs. Wilson executed a separate property agreement that transferred ownership of 90% of the Wilson’s property from community to the separate property of Ms. Wilson. The Wilson’s then got divorced.
Thus, under one reading of Washington law, Clayton was SOL. Even though he had very obvious and serious damages (he was molested some 40 times between the ages of 14 and 16), he could not get any compensation because Mr. Wilson had transferred all the marital assets to Mrs. Wilson and Mrs. Wilson’s assets were untouchable, because, under Washington law, the innocent spouse is not liable for the intentional torts of the tortfeasor.
The Supreme court clarified that Washington law recognizes and exception to an exception. The innocent spouse is not liable for the intentional torts of the other spouse unless the other spouse committed them for the benefit of the community or in the management of community business.
Here, Mr. Wilson’s tort fell under the second prong. He molested the boy immediately after the boy completed his assigned yardwork. The yardwork was community business.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

In a Proceeding to Disestablish Paternity, DNA Testing Is Not Permissible Unless It Is in the Child’s Best Interest

A new decision from Division II, Parentage of Sec, docket no. 38883-9, held that a court must determine that DNA testing is in the child’s best interest before ordering the testing.
The case pitted a presumptive father against a putative biological father. Washington law presumes that a man is a child’s father if the parents were married when the child was born. It also permits a proceeding to disprove a presumptive relationship if: a) the presumed father and the mother neither cohabitated nor engaged in sexual intercourse with each other during the probable time of conception, and b) the presumed father never openly treated the child as his own.
This provision also authorizes a court to require genetic testing, if such testing would be in the child’s best interest.
Here, the putative biological father filed a motion to disestablish the presumptive relationship. In the course of that proceeding, the court ordered the parties to submit to genetic testing. The child and the presumptive father did not comply with the order.
On appeal, the court held the order invalid, because it was issued without the requisite hearing to determine whether such testing was in the child’s best interest.