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California Court of Appeals Affirms a Trial Court’s Finding that a Child has Three Parents

While some people think of a child as only having two parents, that is not always the case. Custody disputes can be acrimonious and complex, but when there are three parties seeking parental rights in a custody case, determining an appropriate custody arrangement can be especially complicated. The guiding concern in all custody cases, however, is what is in the best interest of the child.

In a recent case arising from a California Court of Appeals, the court held that due to the child’s bond with three different adults, each adult should be legally recognized as the child’s parent. If you and your child’s co-parent cannot agree on what custody arrangement is in your child’s best interest, you should retain a skilled California child custody attorney to assist you in your pursuit of a suitable custody agreement.

Factual Background 

Reportedly, the husband and wife in question were married when the wife conceived a child with her coworker. The husband and wife remained married but allowed the coworker to have a parenting role with the child. The child subsequently developed a bond with the coworker and his family. The husband and wife then excluded the coworker from the child’s life, after which the co-worker filed a lawsuit seeking parental rights.


The court found the child to be bonded to the husband and wife as well as the co-worker, and ruled that it was in the child’s best interest for all three to be legally recognized as the child’s parents. The husband and wife appealed the trial court ruling, arguing that the trial court erred in granting the coworker parental rights, because it interfered with the state’s interest in preserving their marriage and also with their parental rights. On appeal, the court affirmed.

Three-Parent Finding

Under California Family Code section 7540, a child born to a married couple that lives together is presumed to be a child of the marriage. The presumption is rebuttable, however, via a blood test. The husband and wife cited the presumption that the husband was the child’s father as the reason the child could not have three parents. The court disagreed, finding that section 7540 was enacted to protect children from fathers trying to evade parental duties. It was not meant to prohibit a third parent from exercising parental rights, which was treated differently under the laws of the state.

The court also found that the coworker was presumed to be the child’s father under California Family Code section 7611, which states a person is presumed to be the natural parent of a child if he or she invites the child into his or her home and holds the child out as his or her child. The court noted that the husband and wife never disputed the fact that the coworker was the child’s biological father and did not argue that the coworker did not satisfy the elements of section 7611. The husband and wife nonetheless argued that the coworker could not be deemed a third parent.

The court disagreed with them, finding that California Family Code section 7612 allows a court to grant parental rights to more than two people where it would be detrimental to the child to rule otherwise. A court looks at relevant factors, such as whether it would harm a child to discontinue contact with a parent who has provided the child with physical and psychological support, to determine whether it would be detrimental for a child to no longer have contact with the parent. Here, the court found that the trial court weighed the evidence in light of the statutory scheme and found that the child had three parents. Thus, depriving her of a relationship with one of the parents would be detrimental to the child. As such, the court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Meet with an Experienced Family Law Attorney

If you are currently involved in a custody dispute, you should seek the counsel of an experienced child custody attorney as soon as possible to help you retain your parental rights and determine a custody agreement that is in the best interest of your child. Ethan M. Weisinger is an experienced family law attorney who is mindful of the sensitive nature of custody disputes and will work diligently to assist you in pursuing the custody arrangement you desire. Contact Mr. Weisinger at 925-258-2020 or via our online form to set up a consultation.

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