Potentially affecting thousands of families across California.
A landmark legal development last month serves as yet another example of our society’s ever-evolving definition of the family unit.
In September of this year, the California State Legislature signed a bill into law stating a child may have more than two legal parents. Originally sponsored by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) in San Francisco, the bill — SB 274 — was drafted in response to a 2011 Court of Appeals decision, deciding that the court did not have the authority to determine a child has more than two legal parents.
The case in question revolved around a child born to a legally married lesbian couple. During a particularly volatile period of separation, one of the women engaged in a brief affair with a man, and the child was conceived. When the biological father sought to establish parentage in Dependency Court, a gauntlet of contradictory court decisions followed.
The Dependency Court found that all three parents had claim to the child: the biological mother, the biological father (who supported the child after birth), and the presumed mother, whose claim lay in the fact that she was married to the biological mother at the time of birth. Several months later, the mothers reconciled, and attempted to cut the father off from contact. They brought the Dependency decision to the Court of Appeals, which reversed the decision and cut the father out of the picture. When the couple later separated a second time, the mother sought support from the father, who furnished it voluntarily.
SB 274 was passed with the sole interest of protecting the child. In the above case, the mothers created an extremely volatile home environment; one of them had significant mental illness as well as alcohol and drug problems. With SB 274 in place, if the court finds a relationship with a “third parent” — the father, in the above — is beneficial to the child, they can act to legally assign the parentage.
While this case pertained to a same-sex relationship, SB 274 could potentially be applied to a wide range of family units. Furthermore, it could force a revamping of child support and dependency guidelines to now apply to a three-parent model. While this decision may not get the same media ink as “juicier” legal cases, it could potentially affect thousands of families across California.