Non-Parents and Parental Rights in California

child statueToday, there are many different types of families. Whether they look like fictional families from cinema (such as Three Men and a Baby) or real-world situations involving gay and lesbian parents, there are a variety of circumstances in which someone who isn’t a biological or adoptive parent might be placed in the role of parenting a child. For people in these situations, which legal rights do they have regarding that child? A recent Sixth District Court of Appeal case tackled that question, ruling that a child could possibly have three legal parents, allowing an uncle who was essential the only father-figure his niece had ever known to continue his fight for parental recognition.

The case arose from an unusual, but not completely extraordinary, set of facts. Anthony Martinez and Shabnam Vaziri were in a long-term relationship — but not married — when Vaziri conceived a child in 2012. Martinez, however, was not the father; his half-brother was. The half-brother abandoned Vaziri and the child before the girl was even born. Martinez stepped in and determined he would raise the child as his own daughter, even though he knew she was not his biological child. He attended prenatal doctor appointments and birthing and parenting classes. He moved in with Vaziri and helped raise the infant for the first six months of her life. Even after moving out of the mother’s home, Martinez continued to spend several days per week with the girl.

However, when Martinez went to court to seek a judicial order declaring that he had a parental relationship with the girl, the trial court denied his request. In analyzing Family Code Section 7612, the trial judge decided that Martinez met the legal presumption for a parental relationship, but it then also decided that the child would experience no detriment in recognizing only two parents (in this case, her two biological parents), which meant that Martinez was not entitled under the law to be acknowledged as a parent.

The appeals court reversed this decision, reviving Martinez’s case and sending the issue back to the trial court for more analysis. Family Code Sections 7612(c) and (d) came into effect following another multiple-parent case, 2011’s In re M.C. That case, which involved three parental figures — the biological father, the biological mother, and the presumed father, to whom the biological mother was married at the time of the child’s birth — stated that courts could never recognize more than two parental figures, regardless of the circumstances. Section 7612 reversed that, saying that courts may recognize more than two if failing to do so would be detrimental to the child.

When deciding the issue of detriment, trial courts are required to consider the stability of a child’s placement. In this case, the trial court used too narrow a standard for “stable placement” by focusing too much on living arrangements. As the appeals court explained, the “critical distinction is not the living situation but whether a parent-child relationship has been established.” In Martinez’s case, he had maintained an ongoing parental relationship with the child, even after leaving the mother’s home. He visited the child several days a week, and he always held himself out as the child’s father, except to a select few people to whom he told the girl’s actual biological paternity. The mother, despite opposing Martinez’s claim, acknowledged that he was the only male role-model in the child’s life, that he supported the child in multiple ways, and that the emotional bond between the two was that of a father and child.

Another factor was the biological father’s role, or lack thereof, in the child’s life. Martinez established that the biological father had only spent 7-8 hours with the child in the entirety of her life, that he had been incarcerated for much of the child’s life, and that the child would likely end up in the state’s foster care system if the mother were unable to continue parenting the girl. These things should have weighed in the uncle’s favor because any “meaningful evaluation of potential detriment to the child … must include a realistic assessment of those parents’ respective roles in providing care and support for the child.”

Child custody cases can be complicated matters, especially if you are neither a biological nor an adoptive parent of a child. Regardless of your situation, you need experienced California family law counsel at your side. The diligent and thoughtful San Diego child custody attorneys at Doppelt & Forney have many years of experience addressing a wide spectrum of issues on behalf of clients throughout Southern California, including in San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista. For a free consultation, reach out to Doppelt & Forney through our website or call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

More blog posts:

California Court Upholds Visitation by Grandparents After Divorce, San Diego Divorce Lawyer Blog, Feb. 23, 2016

U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Adoptive Mother in Child Visitation Case, San Diego Divorce Lawyer Blog, Dec. 15, 2015