Presumed Father Status (California)

Under California law, a man may be a presumed, natural or alleged father of a child. Presumed father status is based on a familial relationship between the man and child, not on biology, and that status entitles him to reunification services, with custody being an option. A natural father is a man who has proven paternity but has not attained presumed father status. (In re Hunter W. (2011) 200 Cal.App.4th 1454, 1461 (Hunter W.).) He is not entitled to reunification services, but they can be ordered in the juvenile court's discretion if it determines that those services will benefit the child. (Francisco G. v. Superior Court (2001) 91 Cal.App.4th 586, 596.) Finally, an alleged father is a man who might be a child's natural father, but neither paternity nor presumed father status have been established. Because he has no known current interest, an alleged father has limited rights, i.e., a right to notice of the proceedings, which provides an opportunity for him to appear and assert a position. (Ibid.) Apart from the law above, a man may have rights under Adoption of Kelsey S. (1992) 1 Cal.4th 816. Kelsey S. was a private adoption case rather than a dependency case. The question presented was "whether the father of a child born out of wedlock may properly be denied the right to withhold his consent to his child's adoption by third parties despite his diligent and legal attempts to obtain custody of his child and to rear it himself, and absent any showing of the father's unfitness as a parent." (Kelsey S., supra, 1 Cal.4th at p. 821.) The court held that "under these circumstances, the federal constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process require that the father be allowed to withhold his consent to his child's adoption and therefore that his parental rights cannot be terminated absent a showing of his unfitness." (Ibid.) "Although Kelsey S. was not a dependency case, courts have extended its holding to dependency proceedings granting Kelsey S. fathers constitutional protections in those proceedings. Courts have upheld a Kelsey S. father's right to seek reunification services. " (Hunter W., supra, 200 Cal.App.4th at p. 1462.) In determining whether a man qualifies as a Kelsey S. father, a juvenile court will consider the man's "'conduct before and after the child's birth, including whether he publicly acknowledged paternity, paid pregnancy and birth expenses commensurate with his ability to do so, and promptly took legal action to obtain custody of the child. '" (Hunter W., supra, 200 Cal.App.4th at p. 1462.) The man "'must demonstrate a full commitment to his parental responsibilities within a short time after he learned that the biological mother was pregnant with his child. He must also demonstrate a willingness to assume full custody. ' " (Id. at pp. 1461-1462.) Further, he must show that the mother or a third party prevented him from becoming a presumed father. (Ibid.) Given the foregoing, father had an interest in seeking to change his status from alleged father to either a Kelsey S. father or a natural father. Moreover, we note that a "dependency court has a duty to determine the parentage of a child when a man appears at a hearing requesting a paternity finding. " (In re Vincent M. (2008) 161 Cal.App.4th 943, 959.) In In re Hunter W. (2011) 200 Cal.App.4th 1454, a child was removed from a mother and declared a dependent of the juvenile court. About a year after the jurisdiction hearing, the mother filed a section 388 petition seeking reunification services. A Kelsey S. father filed a section 388 petition in which he asked the juvenile court to take the permanency planning hearing off calendar, provide him with reunification services, issue a home of parent order and order unmonitored visits. (Hunter W., supra, 200 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1460, 1461-1463.) Both parents appeared at a hearing regarding permanency planning and mother's section 388 petition. After a social worker testified and was cross-examined, the juvenile court continued the hearing to another date to hear the testimony of the mother, the father and a provider of reunification services named Harris. The mother and father checked in at 8:30 a.m. the morning of the continued hearing. When the juvenile court convened at 10:20 a.m., it noted that while both parents had checked in, neither was present nor responding to pages to report back to court. "Father's counsel informed the court that father went to his treatment program to obtain a signed certificate. He stated: 'Father said it would be ready at 10:00 a.m. and its 10:20. I'm assuming that's where he is. It's in L.A. And then he is coming back. So I would ask for a brief continuance. I asked for him to get the letter because Mr. Harris, the program director, I have not been able to be in contact with him and the letter that he produced was not signed or even validated.'" (Hunter W., supra, at p. 1460.) She continued: "And in fairness, Your Honor, there was an officer here on another case, and I thought he was going to be testifying this morning. So that's why I told him to go now so that he would be back by 1:30.'" (Ibid.) The juvenile court proceeded with the hearing. After argument, it stated: "'Just so the record is clear, the request for a continuance was . . . denied. . . . This was in progress and set at 8:30 this morning. We've been ongoing for about a half hour and mother still has not appeared.' The juvenile court recounted the matter's procedural history, noting that the permanency hearing was set 10 months earlier and was continued several times. The juvenile court found that it is not 'in this child's best interest to put this matter over any further. The reality is we've gone ten months around this, and it seems to me frankly that at this point the parents are playing the system and trying to delay it. This is a young child so deserving of permanence the juvenile court cannot find under section 352 that it's in his best interest to continue this matter any further while the parents are running around.' The juvenile court noted it had 27 matters on calendar that day, five of them being trials, and concluded that there was no good cause for the continuance." (Hunter W., supra, 200 Cal.App.4th at p. 1460.) The juvenile court denied mother's section 388 petition and terminated parental rights. (Id. at pp. 1460-1461.) The Hunter W. court reversed, holding that it was an abuse of discretion for the juvenile court "not to hold the case to the afternoon calendar." (Hunter W., supra, 200 Cal.App.4th at p. 1463.) The court noted that the interest of a parent in the companionship, care, custody and management of his or her children is a compelling one, and a state must provide a parent with adequate notice and an opportunity to be heard before depriving him or her of this interest. (Ibid.) In addition, the court elucidated that a parent who makes a prima facie showing of changed circumstances under section 388 has a due process right to a full and fair hearing on the merits. It concluded that the parents were denied the opportunity to present their positions in a meaningful manner because they did not testify. (Hunter W., supra, at p. 1464.) According to Hunter W., section 352 was not applicable because the juvenile court was not required to continue the hearing beyond the time within which it was required to be held. Therefore, the juvenile court's "reliance on section 352 in denying counsel's requests was inappropriate." (Hunter W., supra, 200 Cal.App.4th at p. 1464.) Moreover, the juvenile court "gave no explanation as to why the matter had to proceed at that particular time, besides referencing its calendar. In particular, it did not indicate why it could not proceed on other matters on its calendar awaiting hearing that day. Nothing suggested that other proceedings would have been disrupted by a short hold. . . . Nor did the record support the juvenile court's assertion that the parents were simply 'playing the system' and trying to delay the proceeding." (Id. at pp. 1464-1465.) Rather, the record demonstrated that the parents were present at the prior hearing date and would have testified had there been time. (Id. at p. 1465.)