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If you stepped into the role of caretaker for a child that's a dependent of the court, you may have developed a bond with that child that transcends biological relationships. The courts will sometimes allow someone in this situation to be named a de facto parent.

In California, that can extend you rights that, while not exactly the same as a natural parent, increase your chances of maintaining custody of the child. Here are the facts that you need to know:

-- A de facto parent is considered a party to juvenile court proceedings and can appear in court, present evidence and ask questions of witnesses.

-- Filing your request for de facto parent status is relatively easy and should be done as soon as possible once you decide that you have an interest in maintaining custody of the child.

-- You need to file forms JV-295, which is the formal request for de facto status, and form JV-296, which explains to the judge all of the reasons you feel that you should be granted status as a de facto parent. That form is particularly important because you have the burden of proof to show the court that you have formed a de facto parental bond, including what you know about the child's hopes, dreams and needs.

-- While de facto parents aren't automatically granted visitation rights if the child is put back in the care of the natural parents, you may be able to obtain them. Similarly, while it isn't an absolute right, the juvenile court may appoint a lawyer to help you if you have de facto status.

-- If the court does not appoint an attorney to help you, your de facto status entitles you to hire a private attorney of your own for assistance.

If you've loved and tended a child for a significant amount of time and no longer sure that reunification with his or her natural parent is the best thing that could happen, a child custody attorney can provide advice.

Source: California Court: The Judicial Branch of California, "De Facto Parents," accessed Feb. 20, 2017

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