You might recall the ‘80s TV series My Two Dads. The show was about two men who compete for a woman’s affections. The woman gives birth to a daughter, Nicole, and then dies before either of the men can discover which one of them is Nicole’s biological father. Remarkably, the court awards the men joint custody over Nicole. The two men undergo paternity tests to determine which one of them is the biological father. However, Nicole then destroys the test results.
In California family law, the My Two Dads plot is not as implausible as you might think. In the 2011 case of In re P.A., Patricia was pregnant when she met Roger. The two married, and Patricia gave birth to P.A. Roger treated P.A. as his own daughter and told everyone he was her father. But Roger was abusive to Patricia. After P.A. told a social worker that she saw Roger push Patricia to the floor, the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency asked the juvenile court to remove P.A. from the home. The Agency then located P.A.’s biological father, Alvaro, but he wanted nothing to do with P.A. The court awarded Roger the right to visit P.A. But Alvaro had a change of heart when a paternity test confirmed he was P.A.’s biological father. So after being absent for the first six years of P.A.’s life, Alvaro began talking on the phone with P.A. and visiting her. P.A. decided she liked Alvaro better than she liked Roger. Consequently, Alvaro asked the court to declare him to be P.A.’s father. The court said Alvaro was the biological father, and that was the end of the matter. Roger appealed.
You might be surprised to find out that the Court of Appeal didn’t think much of Alvaro’s status as the biological father. In California family law, the biological father does not sit atop the hierarchy of fathers. The court in In re P.A. described the three classes of fathers: presumed, biological, and alleged. A presumed father is a man who meets one or more of the criteria in section 7611 of the California Family Code. A biological father is a man who has established paternity status but has not shown he is the child’s presumed father. An alleged father is a man who has not established biological paternity or presumed father status. The purpose of these categories is to distinguish between fathers that have established a parent-child relationship and fathers that have not. The most important of these is the presumed father because only the presumed father has established the parent-child relationship.
In In re P.A., the Court of Appeal identified Roger as the presumed father. The Court pointed out that Alvaro originally wanted nothing to do with P.A. and was absent for the first six years of her life. Meanwhile, Roger had treated P.A. as his own child and told everyone he was her father. That, of course, did not mean Alvaro had no rights at all. For that reason, the Court of Appeal sent the case back to the juvenile court so the juvenile court could weigh the competing interests of Alvaro and Roger.
If you find yourself in a My Two Dads plot, please contact Jarvis, Krieger & Sullivan today for a free, no-obligation consultation.