What happens when a woman involved in an intermittent relationship over the course of eight years becomes pregnant?
In the case of Amanda Moore and Matthew Pitts, the boyfriend filed a complaint in 2011 seeking parental rights and responsibilities for the child, who was by then nearly three years old. Matthew succeeded, even after a pregnancy test proved he was not the biological father, to be designated as a de facto parent.
Amanda filed an appeal to remove Matthew's de facto parenthood and to recognize Eric B. Hague as the father. A paternity test determined that Eric, with whom Amanda dated for a few months in 2008, was the biological child.
Amanda also asserted that Matthew's role in her son's life had been short, inconsistent and devoid of caretaking.
At the time of the appeal, Eric was on active duty in the military and lived in Wisconsin with this wife, son and two stepchildren. In court, Eric testified that he and Amanda wanted the child to recognize him as his true father.
Biological Father Joins Fight Against De Facto Parent
During the woman's pregnancy, Matthew attended some prenatal appointments and birthing classes, and was present when the child was born. In addition, the child's birth certificate notes Pitts as the child's surname.
Following the child's birth, Amanda and Matthew lived together for about one year. During that time, Matthew was initially the sole source of financial support and after Amanda returned to work, continued as the primary wage earner.
The court discovered that Matthew's involvement with the child was more focused on feeding and playing with the child. He felt that because he was the major wage earner that Amanda was primarily responsible for caring for the child.
Over time, Matthew's family also become involved with the child and even after the couple separated, Matthew and his family continued to spend time with the boy.
However, in May 2011 the couple argued, and Amanda filed a protection from abuse complaint against Matthew. Following the incident, Matthew was only allowed to see the child for five hours every Sunday.
Eric and Amanda did not want Matthew to have any further contact with the child.
Appellate Court Struggles with De Facto Parenthood
The appellate court noted the law of parentage in light of advances in technology, changes in social norms and family structures, and changing legal issues relating to children and their families.
The court went on to consider the issue of de facto parenthood. The justices lamented the fact that in Maine, even after discussing it for 13 years, there was no statutory reference de facto parenthood. So in the absence of legislation on the matter, the justices noted that an individual seeking parental rights as a de facto parent must demonstrate that he has undertaken a "permanent, unequivocal, committed and responsible parental role in the child's life" and that exceptional circumstances exist "sufficient to allow the court to interfere with the legal or adoptive parent's rights."
In the end, the justices remanded the case to the trial court and instructed the court to reconsider the record and allow the parties to submit additional evidence to determine whether Matthew could meet his burden of establishing de facto parenthood. If the lower court determines Matthew is the de facto parent, then the court must also make a decision delineating his parental rights and responsibilities, including child support in conjunction with deciding the parental rights and responsibilities of Eric.
California's child custody laws are constantly shifting to accommodate the needs of families. It is vital to retain the support and counsel of a knowledgeable child custody lawyer that will review your options and help you determine the best course of action to protect your rights and the best interests of your children.Attorney James Sansone will take the time to understand your needs and the potential challenges that may lead to dispute, presenting your options and helping to determine the best approach to ensure a favorable outcome.