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Entries Categorized as 'News'

Posted on Dec 13 on 2013

What constitutes a “normal” American family? Two parents? Two to three kids? A dog, a garage, and a white picket fence?

As our clients face tough challenges and changes in their family situation — whether in the realm of parentage, custody, etc. — many lament that they only want what’s “normal” for their family, their children, or their marriage. But what does that mean, exactly?

In a recent New York Times article entitled “The Changing American Family,” [Visit the Link] Natalie Angier contends that we live in an unprecedented time of change in the “typical” American family unit:

Families, they say, are becoming more socially egalitarian over all, even as economic disparities widen. Families are more ethnically, racially, religiously and stylistically diverse than half a generation ago — than even half a year ago.

In increasing numbers, blacks marry whites, atheists marry Baptists, men marry men and women women, Democrats marry Republicans and start talk shows. Good friends join forces as part of the “voluntary kin” movement, sharing medical directives, wills, even adopting one another legally.

Single people live alone and proudly consider themselves families of one — more generous and civic-minded than so-called “greedy marrieds.”

While it doesn’t take a degree in Sociology to see that the American marital tradition is looking less Norman Rockwell and more “Modern Family,” Angier’s article shows that we are in no way at the end of this domestic revolution, but smack dab in the middle of it.

The experts consulted back up this assertion with a staggering amount of data. Fewer women become mothers, and those who do have fewer children. Couples wait until later in life to marry, while many choose a life of domestic cohabitation over matrimony. And not only is the divorce rate falling, but it’s absolutely miniscule in same-sex couples when compared to heterosexual couples. What’s more, earlier studies claiming children raised in same-sex households are prone to poor academic performance, crime, and substance abuse, are being debunked.

So who’s to say what’s a normal American family? Or, perhaps the question should be, can we call anything “normal,” when the definition of familyis constantly expanding?


Posted on Nov 2 on 2013

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.