Thursday, July 27, 2006
Mother May Assert Fatherhood of Non-Party in Paternity Suit—C.A.
Panel Rules Woman Had Standing to Raise Presumptions of Paternity on Behalf of Her Husband and Child’s Apparent Father
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
A child’s mother has standing in a paternity suit to assert statutory presumptions of fatherhood on behalf of a non-party individual, this district’s Court of Appeal has ruled.
Div. Four Tuesday unanimously reversed a paternity determination by Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Ann Dobbs, who rejected the paternity claim of a child’s mother’s husband—a non-party—and concluded that the child’s biological father was the presumed father.
The panel remanded the case and ordered the trial judge to make the husband a party to the proceedings and properly weigh the competing paternity claims.
From the time she was born in 2001, Sienna, as the court identified her, lived with her mother, identified only as Suedi D., and her mother’s now-husband—they wed in 2003—identified only as Anthony O.
At the time of Seanna’s birth, the identity of Seanna’s biological father was unknown, because Seanna had been conceived during the time that then-15-year-old Suedi was engaging in sexual relations with both Anthony, then 29, and another man identified as Gabriel P., then 21. Suedi had led each man to believe he was the child’s father, but ultimately pursued a relationship with Anthony because Gabriel expressed reluctance to marry her.
Anthony, who began living with Suedi in her mother’s home shortly before
Seanna was born, was present during her birth, and soon thereafter executed a voluntary declaration of paternity identifying himself as her father.
Gabriel knew about Suedi’s due date and attempted to visit Seanna at the hospital, but Suedi prevented him from seeing the baby and subsequently precluded him from having contact with her after allowing several initial visits. Suedi eventually told Gabriel he was not Seanna’s father, stating falsely that she had test results to prove it, and asked him not to contact her or Seanna any further.
A December 2001 paternity test done at Anthony’s request revealed that Anthony was not Seanna’s father.
In the paternity action that Gabriel filed soon thereafter, Dobbs ordered genetic testing that established Gabriel was Seanna’s biological father, and then ruled that Gabriel was both the biological and presumed father of Seanna.
Declining to entertain Anthony’s competing paternity claim because he was not a party to the action, and setting aside his voluntary declaration of paternity, Dobbs reasoned that Gabriel was entitled to establish his paternity because Suedi’s conduct had unilaterally precluded him from meeting the statutory requirements for becoming a presumed father.
The court of appeal agreed that Gabriel was entitled to establish his paternity, but concluded Dobbs erred in failing to address whether Anthony was a presumed father under Family Code Sec. 7611(c)(1) and (d).
Subdivision (c)(1) raises the presumption of natural fatherhood where the man is married to the child’s mother and is named as the child’s father on the child’s birth certificate, and subdivision (d) provides that a man is the presumed father of a child where he receives the child into his home and openly holds the child out to be his natural child.
These presumptions may be asserted by mothers on behalf of individuals who are not parties to the action, because the Legislature clearly demonstrated the intent to give mothers standing in this regard, the panel concluded on an issue of first impression.
The justices also concluded that Dobbs abused her discretion by setting aside Anthony’s voluntary declaration without joining him as a party to the proceedings.
Writing for the panel, Justice Nora M. Manella explained:
“Although neither Gabriel nor Suedi formally requested that Anthony be joined as a party, Anthony appeared during the proceedings, and Suedi argued throughout that Anthony was Seanna’s presumed father. The trial court never suggested that Anthony’s absence as a party might be relevant to its ruling until it issued its statement of decision, which recognized Anthony’s claim as presumed father, but set this claim aside primarily because he was a non party.”
Suedi’s appellate counsel, Fullerton attorney Marjorie G. Fuller, told the MetNews that Suedi and Anthony, who reside in Southern California, were “very happy” with the panel’s ruling.
“The fact that now a mother has standing to bring the issue of presumed fatherhood before the court is very significant, because in today’s society there are a lot of men who are not the biological parents of children that they are rearing who previously might not have had the ability to have their claim heard,” Fuller said, adding that if the court’s determination of Gabriel’s paternity had been final, Anthony would have faced great difficulty overturning that presumption in a separate action.
Fuller also remarked that the panel’s decision could have interesting implications in parentage disputes involving same-sex relationships.
Gabriel’s attorney, John A. Tkach of the Pasadena firm McMillan & Tkach, could not be reached for comment.
The case is Gabriel P. v. Suedi D., S.O.S. 3886
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company