Biological Paternity is Not Always Relevant in Dependency Proceedings

A child was born and immediately taken into protective custody. The mother was an incarcerated minor, and she did not know who the father was. She noted three potential candidates, one of which was the appellant here, Josh. The child was then either in foster care, briefly with his mother, or with his grandmother. Josh had no relationship with the child, did not learn he was the alleged father until the child was 17 months old, nor demonstrated any commitment to the child’s welfare. Three and a half years later Josh finally requested a paternity test when the child was five years old, and into the third dependency proceeding.

When is biological paternity relevant? Family Code section 7611 states that presumed fatherhood is based on a man’s relationship with the child, not based on a biological connection. Biological paternity on its own is not sufficient to grant the right to child custody or reunification services if the alleged father cannot qualify as a presumed father. Presumed fatherhood is based on a man’s relationship with the child or with the child’s mother. The alleged father must qualify as a presumed father to have a right to child custody. Paternity can be relevant in a dependency proceeding where the alleged father wants to confirm his biological connection with the child in an attempt to reach presumed father status. Thus, paternity is not automatically relevant in every dependency proceeding.

In this Orange County family law matter, Josh failed to achieve the status of presumed father over the three and a half years in which he know of the child’s existence. Moreover, the Orange County family law court determined that the child would not benefit if Josh was the biological father. The Orange County family law court noted that Josh never provided for the child financially, nor sought visitation nor custody. Josh also failed to appear at any dependency hearings that concerned the child. Josh was also incarcerated, serving a three year prison term at the time of this proceeding. In a prior dependency proceeding Josh signed a form denying biological paternity, and relinquished any claims to family reunification services. This evidenced a complete lack of desire to parent the child. Six months after Josh denied paternity, he wrote a letter to Social Services Agency. Josh’s letter said that the child “could very likely be my son” and contained an apology for not coming to a past child custody hearing.” Despite the content of the letter, Josh did not attend subsequent dependency hearings, and failed do anything to show his intent in the letter was sincere.

Because Josh failed to achieve presumed father status, his biological paternity status is irrelevant. A finding of paternity would not have entitled Josh to custody, services, nor determine the outcome of the present dependency proceeding in the Orange County family law court.

Thus, the Orange County family law court correctly determined that paternity was irrelevant.

In re Joshua R. (2002) 104 Cal.App.4th 1020