What is a De Facto Parent? 

Hossein Berenji, Nov 29, 2020

One of the most contentious and challenging aspects of any family law case is determining custody of the children. California family law judges operate under the principle that joint custody is in the best interest of minor children.

Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule. If one or both of the parents of the child are deemed a threat to their safety either because of a drug addiction, history of abuse, or a criminal record, the judge could rule against parental custody.

In such cases, the child may be placed in a foster home or move in with a relative. Depending on how long the child or children stay in that living arrangement, it is possible for the guardian to apply for de facto parental status.

A de facto parent is a person who has assumed the everyday role of parent to the child. With de facto parents, the court has found that the person has met the physical and psychological needs of the child for a significant period of time.

The following outlines the requirements for becoming a de facto parent, the process for doing so, and what rights come along with the role.

Requirements of a De Facto Parent

Family law judges in the state of California consider the best interest of the child above any other criteria when making custody decisions. As noted earlier, there is an assumption that living with one or both biological parents is normally in the best interest of the child.

However, if it is determined that it is not in the best interest of the child to live with their biological parents in a particular case, a de facto parent could be assigned. In order for this to happen, several requirements need to be met, including:

  • The child needs to be a dependant of the court
  • The person applying to become the de facto parent has been meeting the child’s day-to-day needs for a significant period of time
  • The person applying to become the de facto parent has been filling the role of the child’s parent

Finally, the person applying to become the de facto parent will need to prove that they have been providing the child with:

  • Food
  • Shelter
  • Clothing
  • Care
  • Affection

Meeting the child’s tangible and intangible needs for a significant period of time are among the most important criteria judges look at when deciding whether or not to grant de facto parental status.

Steps to Becoming a De Facto Parent

If a guardian wants to become the de facto parent of a child, there are three steps they should take, two that are required, and one that is recommended.

The first step is to fill out the De Facto Parent Request Form (JV-295). This form asks for basic contact information and states clearly that the person filling it out wants to be the child’s de facto parent.

The second step is to complete the De Facto Parent Statement Form (JV-296). This is the form where potential de facto parents make their case as to why they should be considered for the role of de facto parent. They can include information about how long they have been caring for the child on a daily basis and outline what they know about the child that others may not.

Both of those two forms are required in order to become the de facto parent. There is one additional step that is optional, which is submitting letters of recommendation from other people in the child’s life testifying why you should be the de facto parent. These letters of recommendation could be written by a teacher, coach, pastor, or any other adult who has a relationship with the child.

Rights of a De Facto Parent

First and foremost it is important to state that a de facto parent is not the same as a parent. Because of this, a de facto parent does not have unlimited rights. However, de facto parents do have the right to:

  • Be present at hearings pertaining to the custody of the child
  • Be represented by a lawyer
  • Have their lawyer present evidence and cross-examine witnesses on their behalf

The de facto parent also has the right to be a part of the child’s disposition hearing and all subsequent hearings.

It should be noted, however, that because of the complex and contentious nature of custody matters, it is advised that de facto parents and those seeking to become de facto parents hire a qualified family law attorney to assist them.