A California Court of Appeals has ruled that a Mother has standing to petition the Trial Court, under California Family Code Section 7841(a), to free child from parental custody and control of Father who belatedly filed an action to establish his paternity of the child and sought custody and visitation orders. In the case of T.P. v. T.W., Father filed a petition to establish his paternity of the child on November 6, 2009. He also filed an Order to Show Cause seeking joint legal and physical custody and visitation with the child. Trial Court scheduled a hearing for January 26, 2010.
In response, Mother did not contest Father’s paternity, but instead filed a petition to terminate his parental relationship and rights to the child. In her declaration, Mother stated that Father had neither seen nor provided support for their six year-old child since the child’s birth. Mother sought sole legal and physical custody of child and asked Trial Court to deny Father’s request for visitation.
At hearing, Trial Court noting Mother’s lack of opposition, granted Father’s paternity petition. Trial Court refused to grant Mother’s petition to terminate Father’s parental rights, reasoning that Mother lacked standing to seek the termination because child "has a right to two parents." After Mother’s attorney expressed an intention to seek a writ review, Trial Court entered a judgment establishing Father’s paternity and denying Mother’s petition to terminate Father’s parental rights. After referring the custody and visitation issues to mediation, Trial Court scheduled a further hearing for March 9, 2010.
Claiming that Trial Court erred in finding she lacked standing, Mother appealed from the judgment denying her termination petition, and now, California Court of Appeals has reversed the Trial Court’s decision. The Appellate Court has ruled that (1) California Family Code Section 7841(a) authorizes "interested person" to file a petition for an order or judgment declaring child free from parental custody and control of one or both parents; (2) California Family Code Section 7841(b) defines an "interested person" as a person having "direct interest in the action," including a person who intends to seek an adoption; (3) interested persons are not limited to those seeking adoption;(4) Mother clearly has direct interest in the action; (5) cases such as Marcel N. (1991) 235 Cal.App.3d 1007 [proceedings to free child from parental custody and control not limited to adoptions], support Mother’s claim of having standing to file a petition to terminate Father’s parental rights; and (5) Father cited no authority to support his claim that Section 7841 is limited to adoption cases. Therefore, the Appellate Court has ruled that Trial Court erred in concluding that Mother lacked standing to bring a termination petition action, reverses and remands the case back to the Trial Court for further proceedings.