7) the right to reunification services.13 These seven rights, while not
universal, are essential to protect the relationship of the child and
parent or guardian, and in most states, are enjoyed by legal
guardians and parents at every stage of dependency proceedings.
Yet, psychological parents who never obtained legal guardianship—
perhaps due to financial hardship or for lack of opportunity,
understanding, or education—do not share these rights at the
preliminary stages of dependency proceedings. As a result, when the
state intervenes to remove a child from the psychological parent’s
care, the psychological parent has no opportunity to be heard and no
ability to challenge the righteousness of that decision.
The obstacles to obtaining legal guardianship of a child are
real. In California, for example, procuring a legal guardianship
through probate court is both complicated and expensive, costing
upward of one thousand dollars in court fees alone.14 The California
Courts’ website15 advises that while an individual does not need a
13 See CAL. WELF. & INST. CODE § 358.1 (West 2013); cf. In re Merrick V., 19 Cal.
Rptr. 3d 490, 500 (Ct. App. 2004) (finding that, under the circumstances of the
case, grandmother could not assert status as de facto parent); In re Carrie W., 2
Cal. Rptr. 3d 38, 39 (Ct. App. 2003) (limiting standing in dependency cases to
parents and “legal” guardians); In re Emily R., 96 Cal. Rptr. 2d 285, 292 (Ct. App.
2000) (distinguishing between an alleged biological father and a presumed father
under statutory definition relative to standing to request reunification services); In
re Zacharia D., 862 P.2d 751, 760 (Cal. 1993) (noting that de facto and stepparents
are not included in the meaning of the word “parent” in California dependency
courts); In re Sarah C., 11 Cal. Rptr. 2d 414, 417 (Ct. App. 1992) (treating the
word “parent” in statute as “a person upon whom that status has been legally
14 PUB. COUNSEL, GUARDIANSHIP OF THE PERSON AND THE PRO PER
GUARDIANSHIP CLINIC 3 (2012),
http://www.publiccounsel.org/tools/publications/files/Guardianship-of-the-person-and-the-pro-per-guardianship-clinic.pdf (stating that “[t]he court fees are
$1325.00” to file for guardianship over a child but noting that fee waivers are
available for certain qualified individuals); see Guardianship Forms, CAL.
COURTS: JUD. BRANCH CAL., http://www.courts.ca.gov/1214.htm (last visited Aug.
20, 2012) (listing over twenty forms required to ask for guardianship over a child).
15 See Guardianship Forms, supra note 14.