Paul Peterson, an advocate for the rights of child actors, filed a petition
against Nadya Suleman, better known as the “Octomom,” seeking the appointment of
a guardian of her children to make financial decisions for the children. The
petition alleged that Suleman commercially exploits her children and that a
guardian would ensure that the children’s financial interests were adequately
The probate court considered that California Probate Code section 1510
permits a relative or other person on behalf of a minor to file a
petition for appointment of guardian. The probate court found that, while
Peterson had no relationship with the family, there was no statutory requirement
that the petitioner be an interested person or have any type of relationship
with the minor named in the petition.
The probate court denied Suleman’s motion to dismiss, and issued an order
directing the Orange County Social Services Agency to conduct an investigation
of the family’s finances and file a report with the court on the proposed
Suleman filed a petition for writ of mandate/prohibition to direct the
probate court to vacate its order and dismiss Peterson’s petition.
The appellate court looked to the California Supreme Court’s decisions,
making clear that the primary consideration for the guidance of the court in
appointing a guardian is the best interest of the child, but also considered the
right of a parent to the care and custody of his or her children.
The court noted that California law presumes that a parent is competent to
care for his or her own children, unless it is shown that the parent is unfit to
perform the duties imposed by the relation or has forfeited the right to custody
by abandonment of the child.
The court specifically examined the phrase, “other person on behalf of the
minor,” and finding no legislative history to assist in the interpretation, held
that such a person is one who pleads ultimate facts demonstrating financial
misconduct or alleges information sufficient to warrant court intervention.
The appellate court held that, as a nonrelative, Peterson was required to
establish standing by showing ultimate facts warranting court intervention, but
failed to do so. The petition only alleged the potential for mismanagement of
the children’s finances by Suleman, and did not provide any evidence to raise a
reasonable inference of wrongdoing.
The court vacated the order for the Social Services Agency to conduct an
investigation and provide a report, and issued a writ directing the probate
court to issue an order granting Suleman’s motion to dismiss.
This case outlines a middle ground on which to base decisions subjecting a
parent to court intervention. The decision maintains a safeguard against
exploitation of minors by allowing unrelated third parties to file petitions for
guardianship, if they can show sufficient information to warrant such
appointment, but also avoids unwarranted harm to parents through the defense
against frivolous guardianship petitions and forced release of confidential
Kelly L. Hellmuth is the principal author of this release.