Children who have been made wards of the juvenile dependency court often have a significant person in their life who they regard as their parent and they have a strong parent-child relationship. That person usually has important information for the courts, including their desire for visitation or custody of the child. However, because of the confidentiality of the juvenile courts, that person can be excluded from the court until they have proven their relationship to the child. One way to prove that relationship is to become a “de facto parent.”
A “de facto parent” is defined as a person who has been found by the court to have assumed on a day to day basis, the role of parent, fulfilling both the child‣s physical and psychological needs for care and affection, and who has assumed that role for a substantial period of time. (California Rules of Court, rule 1401(a)(8) (In re B.G. (1974) 11 Cal.3d 679.)
The person seeking de facto parent status bears the burden by proving by at least a preponderance of the evidence that they meet the criteria for receiving de facto status. (In re Patricia L. (1992) 9 Cal App.4th 61).
Whether the person seeking de facto parent status is entitled to receive such status “depends strongly on the particular individual seeking such status and the unique circumstances of the case.” (In re Patricia L.) Among the factors that courts have used to determine whether to grant de facto parent status are the following:
1) Whether the child is “psychologically bonded” to the adult.
2) Whether the adult has assumed the role of a parent on a day-to-day basis for a substantial period of time.
3) Whether the adult possesses information about the child unique from the other participants in the process.
4) Whether the adult has regularly attended juvenile court proceedings.
5) Whether a future proceeding may result in an order permanently foreclosing any future contact with the adult.
Many courts take the view that they are interested in any and all information relevant to the child‣s future and well being and will grant de facto parent status. Other courts will grant the status simply upon a showing of a positive parent-child relationship. De facto parent status will not be granted however if the person applying for this status has also substantially harmed the child and was the cause of the dependency proceedings. I.e., even if it is proven that there was or is a strong psychological bond between the person and the child, if that person is the cause of the abuse, they will not be granted de facto parent status.
THE DE FACTO PARENT‣S RIGHTS
Once the status has been granted, the de facto parent becomes a party to the case but their rights are still limited. The person does not have the same rights of the actual parent. They still do not have the right to custody or visitation. They do not have the same procedural due process rights as the biological parents. They do have the right to be present at all dependency hearings and to present evidence at the hearings. They can request custody and visitation rights at these hearings. They have the right to be represented by an attorney although they do not necessarily get an attorney appointed for them. The court has the discretion to appoint an attorney .