There’s no doubt that family structure is changing in the twenty-first century. Gone are the days of the nuclear family being the norm; more kids are being born outside of, and in between, marriages.
Even so, under current California law, children can have at most two legal parents. In stepfamily or open-adoption scenarios, this can create certain family challenges; after all, courts generally assign custody, visitation and child support among the legally recognized parents. For some California lawmakers and concerned citizens, the solution is a law that would explicitly permit judges to find that a child has more than two parents.
Multiple parents could better reflect real-world situations, but some groups opposed
In the summer of 2012, California state senator Mark Leno introduced SB 1476, a bill that would allow legal recognition of more than two parents for a child. “The definition of a family is evolving,” Senator Leno told The Washington Times. “All this bill does is give authority to a court when it’s required to protect the best interest of the child.”
Indeed, as proposed, the measure said that “a child may have a parent and child relationship with more than 2 parents” and directed courts to arrange “custody and visitation among the parents on the best interest of the child.” Supporters of the bill say it stemmed from a 2011 court case in which a young girl had two mothers; when one of the women was incarcerated and the other hospitalized, the girl’s biological father could not act as her guardian because only the two mothers were legally recognized as parents. Beyond same sex couples involving a child’s biological antecedent in a parenting relationship, the measure could come into play in a variety of other circumstances, for instance, when a divorced mother remarries and a child from the first marriage could benefit from both biological parents and a stepparent being recognized as legal parents. Advocates also point out that recognizing multiple parents would mean better odds of securing sufficient child support payments.
However, SB 1476 quickly ran into opposition from conservative and family values groups, who claim it is a backdoor strategy to advance the same-sex marriage movement. In addition, some legal commentators suggest that a multiple-parent approach would be cumbersome. “It’s hard enough for even two parents to agree on how to raise a child,” wrote law professor John Culhane and family scholar Elizabeth Marquardt in a Huffington post article addressing SB 1476. “When it comes to parenting, three’s a crowd.”
Family law problem? Talk to a California family law attorney
Ultimately, California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed SB 1476. Even so, in his veto message, the governor said he needed “more time to consider all the implications,” giving advocates hope for a signed multiple parent bill next year.
While more than two parents cannot be legally recognized yet in California, that does not mean there are no situations in which three or more adults are involved in a complex family situation with a child. If you need help sorting out child custody, visitation or support, talk to a California family law attorney to explore your options.