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Name: In re D.S.
Case #: D060730
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 07/18/2012

The trial court erred by failing to vacate an order that the children’s stepmother was their presumed mother when the natural mother subsequently reappeared and “stepparent” status had not been formalized by adoption proceedings. Elizabeth was the biological mother of the minors. She and the children’s father, Derrick, signed voluntary declarations of paternity at each child’s birth. Elizabeth cared for the children until 2004, when Derrick was granted sole custody. Elizabeth stopped visiting in 2007, and Derrick’s wife, Crystal, raised the children and held them out as her own. In 2011, a dependency action was initiated. Elizabeth was not present at the jurisdictional hearing. The court granted Crystal’s request as for presumed mother status under section 7612. A short time later, Elizabeth appeared and petitioned the court to vacate that order. The court denied her petition. The appellate court found the denial of the petition error and reversed. Elizabeth was the children’s mother because she gave birth to them. When a biological mother appears to have abandoned her parental rights and responsibilities, as here, the appropriate mechanism for a stepparent to gain parental rights is through a stepparent adoption proceeding. Section 7612 is not a substitute or shortcut for established procedures that are required before a court may terminate parental rights.