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County of Los Angeles v. Christopher W.

California Court of Appeals, Second District, First Division

November 1, 2019

COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
CHRISTOPHER W. et al., Defendants and Respondents JENNIFER D., Appellant.

          APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. BZ175229 Armando Duron, Judge. Reversed.

          Cliff Dean Schneider for Appellant Jennifer D.

          No appearance for Plaintiff and Respondent County of Los Angeles.

          No appearance for Defendant and Respondent Christopher W.

          No appearance for Defendant and Respondent Colin K.

          ROTHSCHILD, P. J.

         Christopher W. is the biological father of M.D. The mother of M.D. is Jennifer D. (Mother). Christopher and Mother never married and their personal relationship ended soon after Mother became pregnant with M.D. While Mother was pregnant, she began a dating relationship with Colin K. After M.D. was born, Colin posted pictures of himself with M.D. on his page on the Internet Website Facebook, along with messages implying that he is M.D.'s father. When M.D. was two years old, Colin moved in with Mother and M.D.

         The County of Los Angeles (the County), acting through its Child Support Services Department, commenced an action against Christopher to establish his paternity and his obligation to provide child support for M.D. (Fam. Code, §§ 17400, 17404.)[1] Christopher successfully moved to join Colin as a party in the action and asserted that Colin, not he, is M.D.'s father, pursuant to section 7611, subdivision (d). The County, Mother, and Colin disagreed.

         After an evidentiary hearing, the court determined that Colin is M.D.'s father, and Christopher is not. After the entry of judgment, Mother appealed. For the reasons discussed below, we reverse the judgment.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Mother and Christopher had a relationship that ended in 2013. About two months later, Mother informed Christopher that she was pregnant and that he was the father. They were never married and never lived together.

         In December 2013, while Mother was pregnant, Mother and Colin began dating. Mother was then living alone in a condominium. Colin lived and worked as a supervisor in a sober living house where visitors (including Mother) were not allowed. In light of their relationship and Mother's pregnancy, some people teased Colin about becoming “a daddy.”

         M.D. was born in May 2014. Christopher went to the hospital on the day M.D. was born and held him briefly. While Christopher was at the hospital, he saw a sign that read “Congrats Colin & Jennifer.” Mother asked Christopher if he was going to sign M.D.'s birth certificate, and he said he would not. The birth certificate does not identify anyone as M.D.'s father.

         Colin spent time with Mother at the hospital before and after M.D.'s birth, and drove her and M.D. to Mother's home when they left the hospital. During the first two years of M.D.'s life, Colin visited Mother about once a week for about an hour and a half. Colin never stayed with Mother overnight during that time.

         Christopher interacted with M.D. three times. The first was when he held M.D. in the hospital on the day he was born. The second time occurred in a restaurant shortly after M.D.'s birth. The third time took place in late 2014 or early 2015, when he spent about an hour with M.D. while Mother and Colin went out to dinner. Mother eventually told Christopher that she did not want him to be involved in M.D.'s life and, for that reason (according to Christopher), Christopher did not provide any financial support for M.D. or visit him.

         In May 2016, when M.D. was about two years old, Colin and Mother (along with M.D.) “got a place together.” Colin paid for his “own stuff, ” and did not support M.D. financially. Colin would hold M.D., play and watch television with him, care for him when Mother was not home, and discipline him. M.D. refers to Colin as both “Colin” and “Daddy.”

         Colin is not listed as M.D.'s father on M.D.'s or Mother's medical records, and he has not included him as a dependent on his health insurance. He accompanied Mother during M.D.'s pediatric visits, but ...


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