Traditionally, when multiple parties would claim to be a child’s parent, a court could only recognize two of those claims. However, family matters are rarely so simple, and a recent California case has reaffirmed what subsection (c) of Family Code Section 7611 provides: “[i]n an appropriate action, a court may find that more than two persons with a claim to parentage under this division are parents if the court finds that recognizing only two parents would be detrimental to the child.” “Detrimental to the child” is determined by (but not limited to) the “harm of removing child from stable placement with a parent who fulfills that child’s physical and emotional needs and has done so for a substantial period of time.” Importantly, a finding of detriment does not require that a court find any other parentage claimant to be unfit.
In April 2016, the California Court of Appeal for the Sixth District elaborated on Section 7611. In Martinez v. Vaziri, the petitioner was the child’s biological uncle, the respondent was the child’s mother, and the child’s father was the petitioner’s half-brother. Petitioner and Mother had been in a long-term relationship when Mother conceived a child. However, DNA testing revealed that the child was fathered by Petitioner’s half-brother. Father abandoned Mother during her pregnancy, and since the child’s birth, he has been in-and-out of jail.
Aware that he was not the father, Petitioner raised the child as his own—he accompanied Mother to her doctor’s appointments, was present at the child’s birth, and lived with and cared for the child during her first six months of life. Even after he moved out of Mother and Child’s home, Petitioner continued to see Child three days and two to three nights a week. Eventually, Petitioner initiated proceedings to establish legal parentage.
Although the trial court denied Petitioner’s parentage claim, the Court of Appeal remanded the case for reconsideration of detriment to the child in light of its interpretation of “stable placement.” The trial court had concluded that even though Petitioner established himself as the presumed parent of Child, there was no threat of Child’s “stable placement” being upended because Petitioner had already spent substantial time apart from Child while he attended a drug rehabilitation program.
The Court of Appeal found the trial court’s interpretation of “stable placement” to be lacking and remarked that the phrase is in reference to a parent’s physical and emotional attention to a child’s need. Therefore, the critical distinction is not the living situation, but rather, whether a parent-child relationship has been established, and whether the claimant has demonstrated a commitment to the child.
Thus, as Martinez v. Vaziri demonstrates, a child is not limited to two parents. If a third claimant can prove a sincere and stable commitment to a child (a still demanding standard), a court has the ability to protect the alternative parent-child relationship—without penalizing the child’s other biological or presumed parents.
Establishing parentage is important for both parents and children; however, multiple parentage claimants can complicate the process. If you have questions about the parentage of your child or are interested in establishing legal parentage, please contact the experienced family law attorneys at Lonich Patton Ehrlich Policastri to help you sort through your and your child’s rights.
Lastly, please remember that each individual situation is unique, and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results. While this post may detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice. Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.
1) Cal. Fam. Code § 7612(d)
2) Martinez v. Vaziri (2016) 246 Cal.App.4th