De Facto Parents’ Standing Rights in Juvenile Court

In January of 2019, Child [C] was born and tested positive for methamphetamine.  C’s mother was homeless.  She checked herself out of the hospital - against medical advice - leaving C there and stating she would not return for him.  C was then placed in foster care with Foster Father [FF] and his wife, Foster Mother [FM].  FF and FM were hoping to adopt him.  The Sacramento County Department of Child, Family and Adult Services [Department] tried to place C with his biological mother’s relatives as had happened in the past with other siblings.

During one of those hearings, the court granted FF and FM de facto parents status of C.

After numerous hearings in two years’ time, C was placed in the permanent care of his maternal aunt who also had permanent custody of one of C’s half-siblings.

FF argued with the juvenile court judge that he (the judge) was abusing his discretion because he did not award custody to FF and his wife.  The judge ruled in favor of the maternal relatives and stated that FF did not have standing to be awarded custody of C.  (According to Wikipedia, “In law, standing or locus standi is a condition that a party seeking a legal remedy must show they have by demonstrating to the court sufficient connection to and harm from the law or action challenged to support that party's participation in the case.”)

FF appealed.

The Appellate Court agreed with the trial court that FF and FM did not have standing to be awarded custody stating:

“De facto parents have limited rights that include: (1) the right to an attorney; (2) the right to be present at hearings; and (3) the right to present evidence and be heard. Specifically, they do not have the right to reunification services, custody, or visitation. While de facto parents are given an opportunity to participate in the proceedings, that status does not give them the rights accorded to a parent or legal guardian… Consequently, appellant has no legal standing to complain of the decision to place the child with the new prospective couple since they have no right to custody or continued placement as mere de facto parents…

“The order changing physical custody was within the sound discretion of the court from which appellant cannot appeal because [their] legal rights were not impacted.”

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