What should a judge do when 3 people show up in court claiming to be parents of a single child? Until recently, a judge would not have been able to recognize more than 2 legal parents. However, a new law signed by Governor Jerry Brown allows the recognition of more than 2 legal parents in specific circumstances.
The case that prompted a change in the law is the complete opposite of responsible parenting. In a 2011 California case three people claimed parental rights to a single child. The biological mother and father conceived the child together, but by the time the child was born, the mother was married to another woman and the father was not around. The court became involved after the child was removed following an incident where the biological mother’s boyfriend stabbed her wife.
The biological mother, her wife, and the biological father each claimed to be parents in the resulting juvenile court proceedings. The court stated that neither of the three parents seeking recognition in this case was particularly suited to provide a safe and stable family environment for the child.
Nonetheless, the judge also recognized that California’s existing statutory framework is ill equipped to “accommodate rapidly changing familial structures…and novel parenting relationships.” In the past The California Supreme Court “rejected the concept of dual paternity or maternity where such recognition would result in three parents.”
Under the new law it is unlikely that the case would have turned out differently. Still, the judge’s recognition of the need for a change in the law was what prompted the two bills discussed below.
The California legislature responded to this case with a bill in 2012, SB1476, that would have allowed for the recognition of more than 2 parents in certain cases. I wrote about SB1476 in a Legally LGBT column in Gay San Diego dated March 8, 2013. I explained the objections that were raised, and the concerns Governor Jerry Brown noted when he vetoed the bill.
Governor Brown signed a similar bill, SB274, into law on Friday, October 4 2013. The new law allows judges to “find that more than 2 persons with a claim to parentage…are parents if the court finds that recognizing only 2 parents would be detrimental to the child.” The law also requires courts to “allocate custody and visitation among the parents based on the best interests of the child.”
The new law also addresses one of the concerns with the previous bill, how to deal with determining child support. Child support in California is calculated using a formula based on a statewide guideline. The new law states that it does not intend to change the calculations used for determining child support.
Though the new law allows judges to recognize more than 2 legal parents, it is important to speak with an attorney to determine the best way to ensure that a judge will recognize your specific setup.