State ex rel. J.W.F

In State ex rel. J.W.F., 799 P.2d 710, 715 n.5 (Utah 1990), a wife left her husband and subsequently bore a child fathered by another man. Id. at 712. Soon after, both the natural father and mother abandoned the child, and the state of Utah eventually terminated their parental rights. Id. Although the husband was still technically married to the wife, he did not learn of the child's existence until the child was nine months old. Id. Upon learning that he had a stepson, the husband petitioned for custody. Id. In conferring standing to the stepfather to seek custody, this court relied upon two rationales. First, the Court reasoned that this court had granted to stepparents standing to be heard on matters of custody. Id. at 716. Second, because the Utah legislature had imposed a support obligation upon stepparents for the duration of the marriage to the legal parent, we reasoned that this support obligation was sufficient to confer standing. Id. In State ex rel. J.W.F, the Court granted a petitioner standing to petition for custody of his estranged wife's child. 799 P.2d at 712. In that case, the petitioner had never acted as a parent toward the child because the child was born while the petitioner and his wife were separated, although they remained legally married. Id. In fact, the petitioner did not even know about the child until after his wife had abandoned the child and the state had filed a neglect and abandonment petition. Id. The Court granted the petitioner standing based on his stepparent status and his legal support obligations. Id. at 716. In so holding, we recognized that "certain people, because of their relationship to a child, are at least entitled to standing to seek a determination as to whether it would be in the best interests of the child for them to have custody." Id. at 714. In sum, the Court recognized several factors that may justify granting standing to a third party, such as financial obligations or the person's status or relationship to a child. 799 P.2d at 715. The Court noted that the relationship of a close relative who has the child's best interests at heart "would seem to warrant a grant of standing." Id. However, the Court specifically declined to limit standing to a petitioner related to a child by marriage 1 or to divorce proceedings, noting that "it is conceivable that persons who are not related by blood or marriage, although not presumptively entitled to standing, could show that they had a relationship with the child that would warrant a grant of standing." Id. at 715 n.4.