California court ruling supports biological father’s standing as third parent.

California court ruling supports biological father’s standing as third parent.

In C.A. v. C.P. et al., the Third Appellate District recognized the parental rights of a child’s mother, husband parent and biological father (C.A.). The child was born into an intact marriage after mother had a short relationship with C.A. All parties were aware of the child’s paternity, acknowledged C.A. as the biological father, and were actively involved in the child’s life from birth until she was three. During that time, C.A. had regular overnights with the child, held her out as his own, accepted her into his family, and supported her financially. This action arose when mother and husband refused to allow C.A. to continue visiting with the child.

Under the holding in C.A. v. C.P. et al., the Court determined that both C.A. and husband qualified as fathers of the child: C.A. as a presumed natural parent pursuant to Family Code Section 7611(d) and husband under Family Code Section 7540. C.A. fulfilled the requirements to be considered a presumed natural parent by receiving the child into his home and holding her out as his natural child, which both wife and husband cooperated with. Husband was conclusively presumed a natural parent because he was married to and living with wife at the time of the child’s birth.

Once acknowledging the standing of both men’s paternity, the Court looked to Family Code Section 7512(c), which allows recognition of more than two parents if only recognizing two parents would be detrimental to the child. In their analysis, the Court referenced the statement of legislative intent accompanying Family Code Section 7512:

“(a) Most children have two parents, but in rare cases, children have more than two people who are that child’s parent in every way. Separating a child from a parent has a devastating psychological and emotional impact on the child, and courts must have the power to protect children from this harm.

(b) The purpose of the bill is to abrogate In re M.C. (2011) 195 Cal.App.4th 197 insofar as it held that where there are more than two people who have a claim to parentage under the Uniform Parentage Act, courts are prohibited from recognizing more than two of these people as the parents of a child, regardless of the circumstances.

(c) This bill does not change any of the requirements for establishing a claim to parentage under the Uniform Parentage Act. It only clarifies that where more than two people have claims to parentage, the court may, if it would otherwise be detrimental to the child, recognize that the child has more than two parents.” Sen. Bill No. 274 (2013-2014 Reg. Sess.).

In their findings, the Court highlighted the long-standing bond that the child had with C.A. and his deep involvement in many aspects her early life. The key inquiry was if C.A. had an extant relationship with the child and if removal of this relationship would be in contradiction of the child’s best interest, specifically her need for stability. Finally, the Court held that their recognition of three legal parents did not violate Constitutional protections of marriage and paternal rights.

C.A. v. C.P. et al., provides a roadmap for parents that may be involved in future three party custody cases. Once standing is established through a valid claim of paternity, the Court will examine the extent of the claimant parent’s involvement in the child’s life and determine if it is in the best interest of the child to maintain that bond through a legally recognized relationship. The more consistently involved the claimant parent is, the more likely they are to be recognized as a legal parent. This serves as both instructive for possible biological fathers wishing to assert their parental rights and as a cautionary tale for married parents of a child with a third party biological parent.