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V.S. v. M.L.

California Court of Appeal, First District, Third Division

December 27, 2013

V.S., Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
M.L., Respondent.

Superior Court, Marin County, Hon. Verna A. Adams, Judge. (Marin County Super. Ct. No. FL1205751).

Page 731

COUNSEL

[166 Cal.Rptr.3d 378] Gregory R. Ellis, Stephen B. Ruben, San Francisco, Diana L. Leonida, for Appellant V.S.

Deborah H. Wald, San Francisco, for Respondent M.L.

OPINION

Pollak, J.

Page 732

V.S. (Victor) [1] appeals the dismissal of his petition seeking to establish that he is the father of one-year old Donald. Based on undisputed

Page 733

facts, it appears that while Victor and M.L. (Mary) were romantically involved, Victor impregnated Mary. About one month before Donald was born their relationship terminated and Mary married Roger. Mary and Roger brought Donald into their home as their son and have prevented Victor from having contact with the child. In response to Victor's petition to establish a parent-child relationship, Mary moved to dismiss the proceedings on the ground that Victor has no standing to bring the action, and the court granted the motion. We conclude that under the Family Code as it now reads, Victor does have standing to bring the petition and that further proceedings are necessary to determine whether Victor or Roger should be adjudicated to be the child's legal father.

Background

Without elaborating on the parties' understandable angst reflected in the record, the facts necessary to resolve the issues on appeal were succinctly summarized in the trial court's tentative decision: " The facts are not in dispute. Although she stops short of saying so outright, [Mary] apparently admits that [Victor] is Donald's biological father.... [Mary] married Roger ... before Donald's birth; [Roger] is named as the father on Donald's birth certificate. [Roger] has received Donald into his home and has openly held out Donald as his natural child. [Victor] has never met Donald and has no relationship with him; clearly he would like to do so but [Mary] has thwarted [Victor's] attempts."

Donald was born April 20, 2012. After discovering the birth and making unsuccessful efforts to gain access to the child, on December 27, 2012 Victor filed a petition to establish his parental relationship with Donald, together with a request to compel genetic testing and for other related relief. Mary then filed a motion seeking " an order quashing this proceeding and dismissing this action due to [Victor's] lack of standing (FC 7[6]30, subd. (a); Dawn D. v. Superior Court (1998) 17 Cal.4th 932, 937-938[72 Cal.Rptr.2d 871, 952 P.2d 1139].) [ Dawn D. ]." The court's tentative ruling to grant Mary's motion explained, " Roger ... is Donald's presumed father pursuant to FC § 7611(a) and (d). [Roger] and [Mary] were not married when Donald was conceived, but FC § 7611(a) does not include that requirement; it creates a presumption of paternity if the child is born during marriage and does not state that the child must have been conceived during marriage. If the Legislature had wished to interpose the latter requirement, it could [166 Cal.Rptr.3d 379] have done so. Thus, [Victor] does not have standing to pursue a [Uniform Parentage Act] action regarding Donald (FC § 7630). [¶] The cases construing these statutes make clear that if the Petitioner does not qualify as the child's presumed father, his action must fail; Dawn D. ...; Lisa I. v. Superior Court (Phillip V.) (2005) 133 Cal.App.4th 605 [34 Cal.Rptr.3d 927];

Page 734

Neil S. v. Mary L. (2011) 199 Cal.App.4th 240[131 Cal.Rptr.3d 51]." In its formal order, the court added to its explanation that in Dawn D. the Supreme Court " appears effectively to overrule Michael M. v. Giovanna F. (1992) 5 Cal.App.4th 1272 [7 Cal.Rptr.2d 460]" and hold " that the biological father of a child born to a woman married to another man has no liberty interest in establishing a relationship with the child, protected as a matter of substantive due process, that overcomes its lack of statutory standing to challenge the presumption of a husband's paternity under Family Code 7630(a)." The court therefore dismissed the action, and Victor timely noticed this appeal.

Discussion

The trial court correctly stated the import of Family Code[2], section 7611, concerning what is required to be deemed the presumed father of a child, but erred in holding that section 7630, as it now reads, denies another man who alleges that he is the child's father the right to bring an action to determine his paternity.

Section 7611 sets out the rebuttable presumption that a man is the natural father of a child if he meets any of several conditions, including, most commonly, " (a) He and the child's natural mother are or have been married to each other and the child is born during the marriage ..." or " (d) He receives the child into his home and openly holds out the child as his natural child." There is no question but that Roger qualifies as a presumed father of Donald under both alternatives, as the trial court held.

Section 7630, subdivision (c) now provides that except as to cases coming within section 7540 et seq. (which no party contends is applicable) [3], " an action to determine the existence of the father and child relationship may be brought by" several categories of persons including " a man alleged or alleging himself to be the father." Until the statute was amended in 2010, subsection (c) provided authorization to file such an action only " with respect to a child who has no presumed father under Section 7611 or whose presumed father is deceased." (See Stats. 2008, ch. 534.) However, in 2010 the statute was amended to remove this qualification. (see, e.g., Stats. 2010, ch. 588.) Under the current version of section 7630, subdivision (c), therefore, Victor, who claims to be the father of Donald, is

Page 735

entitled to bring this action to determine the existence of the father and child relationship even though Roger unquestionably is a presumed father of Donald. [4]

[166 Cal.Rptr.3d 380] Dawn D. is not authority to the contrary. There an alleged biological father sought to establish his paternity of a child conceived and born during the mother's marriage to another man. Dawn D. arose prior to the 2010 amendment to section 7630, subdivision (c) and the alleged biological father acknowledged that he had no statutory standing to bring such an action. His contention, rejected by the Supreme Court, was that he had " an asserted constitutional liberty interest, protected as a matter of substantive due process, not to be denied the opportunity to establish a parental relationship with the child." ( 17 Cal.4th at p. 935, 72 Cal.Rptr.2d 871, 952 P.2d 1139.) The subsequent amendment to the statute explicitly provides the statutory standing that was lacking in Dawn D. [5] The amendment does not determine the issue of fatherhood, but it does confer on Victor standing to assert his claim.

Mary asserts that the legislative history of the 2010 amendment indicates that the change in the statute was designed only to broaden standing to assert paternity in connection with adoption proceedings— " as a catch-all statute that addresses standing to establish paternity for children not being raised by a fit parent." We find the legislative history far less clear on this point than Mary's argument suggests [6], [166 Cal.Rptr.3d 381] but in all events if the words of the

Page 736

statute are unambiguous, as they are here, there is no occasion to resort to the legislative history. (E.g., People v. Anderson (2010) 50 Cal.4th 19, 29, 112 Cal.Rptr.3d 685, 235 P.3d 11; Equilon Enterprises v. Consumer Cause, Inc. (2002) 29 Cal.4th 53, 61, 124 Cal.Rptr.2d 507, 52 P.3d 685.) There is no ambiguity in the amended statutory provision, giving one who alleges himself to be the child's father the right to bring an action to determine the existence of the father and child relationship, regardless of whether another man is also a presumed father of the same child. While there may be some redundancy in subsections (a), (b), and (c) of section 7630, there is no conflict between those provisions, at least with respect to any issue in the present case.[7]

This conclusion is supported by the recent decision in J.R. v. D.P. (2012) 212 Cal.App.4th 374, 384-387, 150 Cal.Rptr.3d 882. There the court recognized that the 2010 amendment was not in effect at the time relevant to the decision in Dawn D., and that the subsequent amendment provides standing to one alleging himself to be a child's father even if another man is the presumed father of the child. ( 212 Cal.App.4th at pp. 384-386, 150 Cal.Rptr.3d 882.) It is true, as Mary argues, that the man with whom the mother was living in that case, and who was the presumed father by virtue of section 7611, subdivision (d), was not married to the mother at the time of the child's conception or birth.

Page 737

But that difference does not affect the reasoning of that court, or our own reasoning, as to the application of the amended section 7630, subdivision (c).

The fact that the mother and presumed father were not married when the child in J.R. v. D.P. was born may be argued to render inapplicable a second ground on which the court found standing in that case, but even as to that ground the factual difference is not significant. The court in J.R. v. D.P. held that " even without the statutory amendment" ( id. at p. 384, 150 Cal.Rptr.3d 882) the alleged biological father had standing " by virtue of the principles stated in [ Adoption of] Kelsey S. [ (1992) 1 Cal.4th 816, 4 Cal.Rptr.2d 615, 823 P.2d 1216] and applied in Gabriel P. [ v. Suedi (2006) 141 Cal.App.4th 850, 46 Cal.Rptr.3d 437]." ( Id. at p. 387, 150 Cal.Rptr.3d 882.) Those cases hold that an alleged biological father has a constitutionally protected interest conferring standing to establish his paternity where, at the time of the child's conception, the mother of the child was not married to the man who subsequently became a presumed father of the child. Because no marriage family existed, these cases hold, the biological father's constitutionally protected interest in establishing paternity is not outweighed by the state's interest in maintaining family integrity. ( J.R. v. D.P., supra, 212 Cal.App.4th at pp. 385-387, 150 Cal.Rptr.3d 882; Gabriel P. v. Suedi, supra, 141 Cal.App.4th at p. 860, 46 Cal.Rptr.3d 437.) These cases distinguish Dawn D. on the ground that there the mother was married to the presumed father [166 Cal.Rptr.3d 382] when she was impregnated by another man and when the child was born. The Supreme Court held in Dawn D. that there is no constitutional protection for an alleged biological father's " interest in establishing a relationship with his child born to a woman married to another man at the time of the child's conception and birth." ( 17 Cal.4th at p. 941, 72 Cal.Rptr.2d 871, 952 P.2d 1139.) As Justice Kennard wrote in concurrence, " One who ... fathers a child with a woman married to another man takes the risk that the child will be raised within that marriage and that he will be excluded from participation in the child's life." ( 17 Cal.4th at p. 947, 72 Cal.Rptr.2d 871, 952 P.2d 1139.) Although in these cases the mother was married to the presumed father when the child was both conceived and born, their reasoning indicates that what determines whether the biological father acquires a constitutionally protected interest is whether the mother is wed to the other man at the time of conception, not whether they were married at the time of birth.

In Michael M. v. Giovanna F. (1992) 5 Cal.App.4th 1272, 7 Cal.Rptr.2d 460 the court explicitly held that the alleged biological father acquires a constitutionally protected right to assert his claim to fatherhood where, as in the present case, the mother was not married to the other man at the time of conception but marries him before birth of the child. " Where the marriage partners are joined, both knowing that the child is in utero and there is a different biological father in existence, we find no tenable basis on which to find a threat to the unity of the family flowing from the biological father's prompt attempt to establish a relationship with the child." ( 5 Cal.App.4th at p. 1284, 7 Cal.Rptr.2d 460.)

Page 738

Citing Kelsey S., the court held that " where unwed parents conceive, and the mother marries another before the birth of the child, the biological father's substantive due process right to a relationship with his child requires that he be allowed standing under the [Uniform Parentage Act] to attempt to establish his paternity of the child, so long as he has promptly taken sufficient steps to preserve his interest." ( Id. at p. 1285, 7 Cal.Rptr.2d 460.) [8]

The fact that Victor has standing to assert his claim to fatherhood does not mean that his claim necessarily has merit. Assuming that he can establish his biological paternity, he must also carry the burden of proving that he is entitled to the rights of a presumed father of Donald. Although he undoubtedly cannot establish that he has " receive[d] the child into his home" as required by section 7611, subdivision (d), he may be able to prove that he is a so-called Kelsey S. father, that is, that [166 Cal.Rptr.3d 383] despite his best efforts he was prevented by Mary from doing so and that he has nonetheless " openly [held] out the child as his natural child" and attempted to assume the obligations of parenthood. If Victor can prove that he " acted as promptly as was reasonably possible to establish that he is [Donald's] father, and that [Mary's] conduct had unilaterally precluded [him] from meeting the statutory requirements for the status of presumed father," he will be entitled to the rights of a presumed father. ( Gabriel P. v. Suedi D., supra, 141 Cal.App.4th at pp. 860-861, 46 Cal.Rptr.3d 437.)

Kelsey S. held that California's statutory scheme " violates the federal constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process for unwed fathers to the extent that the statutes allow a mother unilaterally to preclude her child's biological father from becoming a presumed father ... If an unwed father promptly comes forward and demonstrates a full commitment to his parental responsibilities— emotional, financial, and otherwise— his federal constitutional right to due process prohibits the termination of his parental relationship absent a showing of his unfitness as a parent."

Page 739

1 Cal.4th at p. 849, 4 Cal.Rptr.2d 615, 823 P.2d 1216.) [9] To determine whether the biological father is entitled to the rights of a presumed father in such a case, " [t]he father's conduct both before and after the child's birth must be considered. Once the father knows or reasonably should know of the pregnancy, he must promptly attempt to assume his parental responsibilities as fully as the mother will allow and his circumstances permit. In particular, the father must demonstrate ‘ a willingness himself to assume full custody of the child— not merely to block adoption by others.’ (Citation.) A court should also consider the father's public acknowledgement of paternity, payment of pregnancy and birth expenses commensurate with his ability to do so, and prompt legal action to seek custody of the child." ( Ibid. ) " To satisfy the Kelsey S. criteria, a child's biological father must show he promptly stepped forward to assume full parental responsibilities for his child's well-being, the child's mother or some third party thwarted his efforts to assume his parental responsibilities, and that he demonstrated a willingness to assume full custody of the child." ( In re M.C. (2011) 195 Cal.App.4th 197, 220, 123 Cal.Rptr.3d 856.)

Assuming that, despite the eight month interval between Donald's birth and the filing of his petition, Victor can establish his status as " a quasi-presumed, or ‘ Kelsey S. ’ father as they are most commonly known" ( In re M.C., supra, 195 Cal.App.4th at p. 213, 123 Cal.Rptr.3d 856), both Roger and Victor will have qualified to be treated as Donald's presumed father. " Although more than one individual may fulfill the statutory criteria that give rise to a presumption of paternity, ‘ there can be only one presumed father.’ (Citation.)" ( In re Jesusa V. (2004) 32 Cal.4th 588, 603, 10 Cal.Rptr.3d 205, 85 P.3d 2.) If more than one man meet the [166 Cal.Rptr.3d 384] criteria giving rise to the rebuttable presumption of fatherhood, the court must determine which of the two men's presumption " on the facts is founded on the weightier considerations of policy and logic." (§ 7612, subd. (b); [10] In re Jesusa V., supra; J.R. v. D.P., supra, 212 Cal.App.4th at pp. 383, 390, 150 Cal.Rptr.3d 882; Gabriel P. v. Suedi D., supra, 141 Cal.App.4th at p. 864, 46 Cal.Rptr.3d 437.) " [B]iological paternity by a competing

Page 740

presumed father does not necessarily defeat a nonbiological father's presumption of paternity." ( In re Jesusa V., supra, 32 Cal.4th at p. 604, 10 Cal.Rptr.3d 205, 85 P.3d 2.) Rather, the court is " obliged to weigh all relevant factors— including biology— in determining which presumption [is] founded on weightier considerations of policy and logic." ( Id. at p. 608, 10 Cal.Rptr.3d 205, 85 P.3d 2.) Where conflicting presumptions arise, " a court must make factual findings with respect to each presumption and only then weigh which presumption is entitled, in that case, to greater weight. The nature of each presumed father's role in the life of a child and the marital circumstances will vary from case to case and thus the trial court must make its determination under section 7612 on a case-by-case basis. In resolving such a conflict, the trial court must at all times be guided by the principle that the goal of our paternity statutes is ‘ the protection of the child's well-being.’ " ( Craig L. v. Sandy S. (2004) 125 Cal.App.4th 36, 52, 22 Cal.Rptr.3d 606.) " [T]he trial court must in the end make a Cal.Rptr.3d determination which gives the greatest weight to [the child's] well-being." ( Id. at p. 53, 22 Cal.Rptr.3d 606; J.R. v. D.P., supra, 212 Cal.App.4th at p. 390, 150 Cal.Rptr.3d 882; see In re Jesusa V., supra, 32 Cal.4th at p. 619, 10 Cal.Rptr.3d 205, 85 P.3d 2.)

Disposition

The order dismissing the petition is reversed. On remand, the trial court must determine whether V.S. (referred to in this opinion as " Victor" ) has satisfied the requirements necessary to be considered a quasi-presumed, or Kelsey S., father and, if so, whether the presumption of paternity as to him or as to mother's husband (referred to in this opinion as " Roger" ) is supported by weightier considerations of policy and logic.


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