A California Court of Appeals has resolved an issue that should have come before the appellate courts earlier, but it didn't. The key issue to resolve in this new case was what happens when the biological father doesn't want anything to do with his child and mother's new man tries to raise that child as his own? Should biological father be allowed to get away with not paying child support by arguing that the man raising his child is the presumed father of the child because he took the child into his home and held him out as his own child [California Family Code Section 7611(d)]?
In reversal, a California Court of Appeals has just ruled that a Trial Court was wrong by determining that a man who provided care for and lived with another man’s biological Child and Child’s Mother is Child’s presumed parent and that this relationship rebutted the presumption established by paternity testing that the other man is Child’s Bio Father.
In the case of County of Los Angeles v. Christopher W., about two months after Mother and Bio Father ended their personal relationship, Mother told Bio Father that she was pregnant with his Child. In December 2013, Mother began dating another man (Other Man), who was well aware of Mother’s pregnancy. Mother and Bio Father’s Child was born in May of 2014. Other Man’s friends had teased him about becoming “a daddy” and someone put up a sign in Mother’s room giving “congrats” to Mother and Other Man’s on Child’s birth.
When Bio Father went to the hospital to see Mother and Child, he saw the sign. Bio Father held Child briefly, but refused to sign Child’s birth certificate, leaving no one listed as Child’s father. Other Man, who had spent time with Mother before and after Child’s birth, drove Mother and Child home from the hospital. During the next two years, Other Man saw Child about once a week for an hour and a half. Bio Father, on the other hand, saw Child only twice after holding Child at the hospital. Mother finally told Bio Father that she didn’t want him in Child’s life, after which Bio Father neither saw nor financially supported Child.
In May of 2016, Mother, Other Man, and Child “got a place together.” They kept their finances separate and Other Man gave Child no financial support. However, Other Man played with Child, watched TV with him, took care of him in Mother’s absence, and disciplined him. Child began calling Other Man “Daddy” along with Other Man’s given name. Other Man was never listed as Child’s father on any records nor had he held himself out as Child’s father to Child’s doctors. However, for a period of time, Other Man posted various photos of himself and Child on his Facebook page, with captions referring to Child as his boy and to himself as daddy.
On April 1, 2015, Los Angeles County, through its child support division, filed a complaint to establish Mother and Bio Father as Child’s parents and to obtain a child support order requiring Father to pay $1,420 per month to the State Disbursement Unit. In a response filed May 1, 2015, Bio Father denied being Child’s father, asked for paternity testing, and claimed that “someone else” had been claiming to be Child’s bio dad. Bio Father followed up with a motion to join Other Man in the proceeding as Child’s presumed father under California Family Code Section 7611(d) [man who receives child into his home and holds child out as his]. Seeing no opposition to the motion, Trial Court granted it and permitted Bio Father to file a petition to establish Mother and Other Man as Child’s parents. Mother and Other Man each shot back responses, asserting that Bio Father was Child’s Bio Father. Genetic testing subsequently established that Bio Father is Child’s bio dad.
After an evidentiary hearing in August 2017, Trial Court issued a statement of decision on November 30, 2017. In it, Trial Court determined that Other Man was Child’s presumed father under California Family Code Section 7611(d), based on his Facebook postings displaying “nothing short of a parent-child relationship” which Other Man had nurtured. Trial Court further determined that Bio Father qualified as Child’s presumed father under California Family Code Section 7555 due to the genetic testing results. However, Bio Father’s presumption (based on test results) was not as strong as Other Man’s (based on relationship with Child). In June of 2018, Trial Court entered judgment naming Mother and Other Man as Child’s parents, but did not enter a child support order.
Mother appealed, and after addressing some procedural issues, Court of Appeals has now reversed Trial Court’s decision. The Appellate Court has ruled that (1) a person responsible for child’s existence has a duty to support that child; (2) at the time of these proceedings, Family Code Section 7555(a) provided that a paternity presumption established by genetic testing could be rebutted only by particular types of evidence, which did not include a lack of relationship between the bio dad and the child or a closer relationship between the child and another man; (3) rebutting a paternity presumption under Family Code Section §7811(d) may be appropriate where enforcing the presumption imposes support obligation on an unwilling candidate; (4) Other Man never sought parental status and his relationship with Child would not be adversely affected by naming Bio Father as Child’s parent (Mother and Other Man specifically asked Trial Court not to name Other Man as Child’s parent); (5) as the man responsible for Child’s existence, Bio Father should be named as Child’s parent for child support purposes; (6) no existing decision has held that a bio dad should be relieved of his obligation of support and that obligation foisted on an unwilling Family Cod Section 7611(d) presumed father (taking child into his own home as his own child). Appellate Court reverses Trial Court’s Judgment and concludes that clear and convincing evidence of Bio Father’s biological paternity rebutted the Family Code Section 7611(d) presumption regarding Other Man.