Cases & Deals

Pro bono client prevails in parentage rights case

Clients Client KH

On March 11, the California Court of Appeal reversed a trial court order denying the petition of Jones Day pro bono Client KH seeking to establish her legal parentage of an eight-year-old little girl who our client had raised since the child's birth.

Respondent to the appeal, TC, is the child's biological mother and lived with Client KH while the two women raised the little girl together for the first eight years of her life, at which point TC moved out of the parties' shared home and took the child with her. Although custody of the child was shared for some time after the split, TC cut off contact between Client KH and the child in December 2012, and Client KH has been fighting for her parental rights ever since.

The trial court had held that because the child "already has two parents," namely the biological mother and the biological father, Client KH lacked standing to seek parentage. In so holding, the trial court failed to apply the pertinent provisions of the Uniform Parentage Act, which make clear that a biological father (unlike a biological mother) has no automatic legal parentage rights simply by virtue of the genetic connection. In fact, anyone who has (i) welcomed a child into his or her home, and (ii) held the child out as his or her own may seek to establish parentage through the "presumed parent" provisions of the Uniform Parentage Act. Thus, the Court of Appeal sided with Client KH in ruling that the trial court erroneously failed to consider her claim according to that framework.

Moreover, the trial court compounded its error by ignoring the fact that the child's biological father was a convicted child molester who had not contacted the child since she was two years old, thereby elevating the potential—as yet unasserted—parentage claim of the biological father over that of Client KH, who has been a supportive, caring, and loving parental figure to the child throughout her life. The Court of Appeal therefore instructed the trial court on remand to weigh the competing claims of Client KH and the child's biological father, to hold an evidentiary hearing insofar as is required to do so, to consider whether formal notice to the biological father is necessary and to consider the implications of a new law effective January 1, 2014, which permits a child to have more than two legal parents in certain circumstances.

Los Angeles partner Erica Reilley and associate Charlotte Wasserstein represented Client KH before the California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District (San Francisco), with support from paralegal Andrea DuFault and secretary Susan Ballard (Los Angeles). Charlotte argued the appeal, and the court posted its disposition in Client KH’s favor a mere two weeks after the oral argument that took place on February 26.