Under new law, children in CA can now have three legal parents

Governor Jerry Brown made history earlier this month when he signed Senate Bill 274 into law, a piece of legislation that introduces a significant change in the legal landscape here in California as it relates to child custody and other important family law matters.

The bill, which passed both legislative chambers along mostly party lines, calls for the courts to be able to recognize three or more legal parents in those relatively unusual circumstances where more than two people fit the state's legal definition of a parent, and the two-parent limit would serve to harm the best interests of the child.

"The structure of today's families is evolving, and courts need the ability to recognize these changes so children are supported by the adults that play a central role in loving and caring for them," said Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), the sponsor of SB 274. "It is critical that judges have the ability to recognize the roles of all parents so that no child has to endure separation from one of the adults he or she has always known as a parent."

Interestingly, Leno's office cited some prior court cases in which the new law would have perhaps proven useful in resolving matters to the benefit of the parties involved and, more significantly, the children.

  • In one case, a woman separated from the biological father of her child and proceeded to live with a man who eventually established himself as the child's primary caretaker. The man later sought to establish a parental relationship with the child after separating from his mother.
  • In another case, a lesbian couple conceived a child through the use of a sperm donor, and all three parties helped raise the child. However, the birth mother eventually decided to end the relationship, and sought to terminate the parental rights of her former partner and the sperm donor

According to Leno, SB 274 will not only allow rightful parents to assert their custody/visitation rights and help establish child support obligations, but also prevent those altogether undesirable scenarios in which judges are obligated to place children in foster care despite the presence of someone who has played a vital parental role up to that point in time.

It should be interesting to see what impact SB 274, which goes into effect in January, has on family law cases here in California. Stay tuned for developments ...

If you would like to learn more about your rights concerning child custody/visitation, consider speaking with an experienced attorney.

Source: The San Francisco Chronicle, "New law says a child may have more than two parents," Bob Egelko, Oct. 4, 2013; The Los Angeles Times, "Brown signs bill allowing children more than two legal parents," Patrick McGreevy, Oct. 4, 2013

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