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Bay Area Family Attorneys > Blog > Child Custody Visitation > What is a “De Facto” parent in California?

What is a “De Facto” parent in California?


A parent-child relationship is not limited to the bond between a child born to a biological parent. Often, another figure steps into a child’s life and provides as much (or even more) stability and love to a child than that child’s biological parent. Whether this be a grandparent, family friend, sibling, foster parent, adoptive parent, aunt … when a person, other than a biological parent, has stepped into a parenting role, California courts may refer to that person as a “de facto” parent.

This article aims to generally introduce readers to this legal concept. We will discuss what California law says about de facto parents, who might qualify, and what exactly are the de facto parent’s rights. Of course, every individual case is unique and requires individualized analysis and tailored advice. For general rules see below. For more specific information about your case, contact our office to begin working with our experienced legal team.

Who are “De Facto” Parents in California Law?

California Rule of Court (“CRC”) 5.502(10) states that a “de facto” parent is someone whom the court has found to have assumed the role of day-to-day parent for a substantial period of time. A “de facto” parent also takes care of the child‘s physical and psychological needs.

The court might find you to be a de facto parent if:

  • The child at issue is a juvenile court dependent;
  • You have been taking care of the child, or do take care of the child, every day;
  • You assumed the role of the child’s parent; or
  • You have met or are currently meeting the child’s needs regarding shelter, food, clothing, care, and affection.

A court very often chooses to name a de facto parent when a child’s needs are not being met by the child’s biological parent. This includes situations where being with the biological parent places the child in danger or at great risk of harm. In dangerous situations, the court may choose to relocate the child. This may happen, for instance, if the child’s biological parents have been engaging in criminal activity.

Who Can Be a De Facto Parent?

Any adult that the court finds fit and appropriate may be deemed a de facto parent. Blood relation is not a requirement, so this means a stepparent, family friend, distant relative, etc. could all potentially be named a de facto parent. What matters is what you provide for the child and the influence you have on their life.

What Rights do De Facto Parents Have?

If you are declared a de facto parent by the court, then you will have rights regarding the child. CRC 5.534(a) describes these rights. These might include, but are not limited to, the right to:

  • Be present in the courtroom for any dependency proceedings;
  • Present evidence at a hearing, and cross-examine witnesses;
  • Participate in disposition hearings, and any subsequent hearings.

Contact Cardwell, Steigerwald Young

Few legal issues have more potential for contention than questions of child custody. The San Francisco child custody lawyers at Cardwell, Steigerwald Young can help guide you through the process of petitioning the court to be named a de facto parent. Contact our office today to begin working with our experienced staff on the unique issues in your own case.




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