A Tale of "Sort-of Father" Status in California

In November of 2014, a social worker with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) removed four-year-old HR and his younger-half-sister JR from their mother’s home alleging a domestic violence situation caused by Mother’s live-in boyfriend (BF). The DCFS alleged physical abuse by BF against the mother and children, and alcohol abuse by Mother. DCFS also accused Mother of leaving the children home alone without adult supervision. BF admitted that he is JR’s biological father, but he adamantly denied that he is HR’s biological father. Mother denied that BF is HR’s biological father, but refused to tell DCFS who HR’s biological father is. After numerous attempts by DCFS to determine HR’s paternity, Mother finally admitted his father was EC. Further, at times she admitted to DCFS of informing EC that he was HR’s father, and other times she told DCFS she never informed EC that he was HR’s father, because she was mad at him for moving out of state.

EC and Mother never lived together, but they had a sexual relationship during the summer of 2009. According to Mother, she had no other sexual relationships during that time.

During a juvenile court hearing, the judge ordered DCFS to try and locate EC. Mother did not know where EC was, but believed he was in Louisiana. She also thought he had family in Arkansas. Upon further investigation by the DCFS, EC was found in a federal detention center in Louisiana. He was in the process of being deported to El Salvador.

Upon hearing California’s DCFS was looking for him regarding HR, EC contacted DCFS. He advised the social worker that his deportation date was in January of 2015; and that he did not think he was HR’s biological father, but that he wanted to be informed of the case’s status.

EC was deported shortly before the next juvenile hearing to determine paternity, but an attorney was assigned to represent EC in court. Although HR submitted to a DNA test, EC did not. Therefore, the juvenile court determined EC to be HR’s alleged father only. His attorney appealed contending the court erred in not finding him to be HR’s biological father. If EC was not declared the biological father, he should not be a part of HR’s dependency case at all.

The appellate court denied EC’s attorney’s request and affirmed the juvenile court’s determination that EC was the alleged father, thus making him subjected to HR’s dependency hearing.

A dependency proceeding differentiates between alleged, biological, and presumed types of fathers: “…A man who may be the father of a child but has not established his biological paternity, or achieved presumed father status, is an alleged father. A biological father has established his paternity, but he has not established that he is the child’s presumed father.”

The appellate court went on to say: “A father’s rights and the extent to which he may participate in dependency proceedings hinge on his paternal status. An alleged father has limited due process and statutory rights. He is not entitled to [have an attorney appointed for him] or to reunification services… [He need only] be given notice and an opportunity to appear and assert a position and attempt to change his paternity status . . . The court has the discretion to grant reunification services to a biological father if the court determines that the services will benefit the child… Presumed father status ranks highest and entitles the father to appointed counsel, custody (assuming the court has not made a detriment finding).”

In this case, substantial evidence supported the court’s determination that father was H.R."s alleged but not his biological father.