What's a De Facto Parent?
What's a De Facto Parent?

The adults responsible for caring for a child are not always the child’s biological parents. There are instances when another individual or individuals care for a child. Such “stand-in” parents are referred to as de facto parents in juvenile dependency cases.

Typically, family courts believe that the best situation for a child is for them to remain with at least one biological parent. However, there are exceptions. If it’s determined that staying with their biological parents would not be in a child’s best interests, a court may instead allow a de facto parent to continue caring for them. This overview will explain what a de facto parent’s role is and the degree to which they do and don’t have the same rights as a biological parent or legal guardian.


De Facto Parents in California: What You Need to Know

According to California law, a de facto parent is “a person who has been found by the court to have assumed, on a day-to-day basis, the role of parent, fulfilling both the child’s physical and psychological needs for care and affection, and who has assumed that role for a substantial period.”

There are various reasons a court may decide it is in the best interests of a child for them to reside with and be cared for by a de facto parent. For example, a court may decide a child should not live with their biological parents if their parents are abusing them or engaging in criminal activity that could endanger a child.

It’s not uncommon for other adults to begin taking care of children in situations when their biological parents cannot do so properly. These are often individuals a child may already know in some capacity, such as a relative.

Such individuals can apply for official de facto status during juvenile dependency cases. To be granted de facto parent status, they must provide evidence showing that they have been caring for a child on a daily basis and have been providing for their needs. This may include their mental and emotional needs.

The Rights of De Facto Parents in California

In California, de facto parents are often granted the right to:

  • Participate in hearings
  • Present evidence and seek representation from a lawyer
  • In some cases, cross-examine witnesses

However, de facto parents don’t have all the rights of a legal guardian. They have no absolute right for custody or visitation in the future. There is essentially no guarantee that a de facto parent will be able to continue caring for a child after their case has ended. You must be aware of this if you plan on assuming the role of a de facto parent.

Additionally, the court can terminate your status as a de facto parent. They may do so if a child welfare agency shows that you no longer meet the criteria necessary to qualify as a de facto parent.

Applying for De Facto Parent Status in California

If you believe you have a right to become a de facto parent for a child you have been caring for, you can apply for de facto status by completing the De Facto Parent Request Form. This form will provide the court with basic information about who you are and what your intentions are.

You will also need to complete the De Facto Parent Statement. This is essentially a document which allows you to argue why you deserve to be granted de facto status.

Information and documentation you may consider including in your statement include:

  • A description of how well you know the child
  • A description of how you have been caring for the child and how long you have been doing so
  • The means by which you fulfill a child’s needs
  • Reference letters from other responsible adults familiar with the situation

You may want to enlist the help of a family law attorney when completing this part of the process. Becoming a de facto parent could be an important goal for you due to the nature of a child’s relationship with their biological parents. You’re more likely to achieve this goal if you present a strong argument in your favor.


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