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Murky Waters in 3-Way Parental Rights Fight

(CN) - A California man may yet win custody of a 2-year-old child he conceived with a woman who left him to marry another woman.

Melissa V. and Irene V., whose last names are not public to protect the confidentiality of the child, registered as domestic partners in February 2008 but separated three months later. Melissa then began a relationship with Jesus Perez and became pregnant.

Jesus invited Melissa to live with him, supported her financially and made sure she received prenatal care.

By July, Melissa had dissolved her domestic partnership with Irene and took out a restraining order against the woman, alleging physical violence.

Two months later, however, Melissa reconciled with Irene, moved away and did not leave a forwarding address. She and Irene got married on Oct. 15, 2008, when same-sex marriage was legal in California.

Melissa gave birth to M.C. in March 2009, and she and the baby lived with Irene for about a month before moving out. That summer, Melissa resumed contact with Jesus, who had moved to Oklahoma for a new job, and he wired her money for the baby.

In the fall, Melissa had a new boyfriend, who attacked Irene with a knife, stabbing her in the back and neck. Melissa was charged as an accessory to attempted murder.

The Department of Children and Family Services filed a petition to take M.C. away from the women due to their volatile relationship.

A juvenile court ruled that Jesus was the child's presumed and biological father, Irene was the presumed mother, and Melissa was the biological mother. All three parents appealed.

The women argued that Jesus should not have been declared the father. Jesus, who is expecting a baby with his new fiancée, argued that he should have received custody of M.C. instead of the Melissa's parents.

The court of appeals ruled that Jesus was properly determined to be the child's father.

"From the time he learned Melissa was pregnant, he held himself out as M.C.'s father," Justice Johnson wrote for the court, adding: "It was beyond Jesus' control that Melissa left him to resume her volatile relationship with Irene."

The court remanded the case to the juvenile court to review the facts in light of the three-parent ruling.

"On remand, if after resolving the conflicting presumptions, Jesus retains his status as presumed father, the juvenile court is to conduct a new placement hearing," Johnson wrote.

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