Gov. Jerry Brown to Decide If California Children Will Have More Than Two Legal Parents
California children could have more than two legal parents under legislation awaiting action by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Backers of the bill – SB 1476 by Sen. Mark Leno, a San Francisco Democrat – say it fixes a quirk in the law that prevents a previous custodial or biological parent from taking are of a child if the two current parents are incapable.
“This legislation gives courts the flexibility to protect the best interests of a child. It’s critical that judges have the ability to recognize the roles of all parents, especially when a family is in distress and a child’s security is a concern,”
Leno said in a statement when the Assembly passed his bill on August 27.
Urging the Democratic governor to veto the measure, Karen England, executive director of the Capitol Research Institute, said in an email:
“The proponents of this bill are aiming to extend parental rights to a child’s biological parent’s same-sex partner. This is yet another attempt to break down the traditional definition of the family and normalize same-sex unions. This is very harmful to children.”
Leno says the bill does nothing of the sort and California’s current definition of a parent is unchanged.
Using existing criteria for what constitutes a parent, Leno’s bill allows a court to rule that a child has three or more legal parents – as long as doing so is required to protect the child’s best interests.
If the multiple parents can’t agree on custody, visitation or child support, a judge makes the final determination.
Generally, in California a parent is biological, adoptive or foster. Guardians or grandparents or stepparents also are considered parents under the law.
The Association of Family Conciliation Courts said in opposition that Leno’s bill “does not provide for any limitation of these potential parents. A child’s time can barely be handled effectively between two conflicted parents and often the children are caught in the middle.
“If three or four different people with ‘parental’ claims have differing perspectives regarding the child we will have created an untenable situation for the child and an even greater degree of conflict.”
The May 2011 appellate ruling that sparked the legislation, in re M.C., involves a same sex couple and their child’s biological father.
The father, who had never denied paternity, sought custody when the couple couldn’t care for the child but was denied by the appeals court, which overturned what it called the “novel finding” of the juvenile court that the child, in fact, had three parents – a biological mother and father and a custodial mother.
That win for the father was appealed by the two mothers. The appellate court said that “substantial evidence supports the parentage findings, but the juvenile court’s work is incomplete.” The case was sent back for reexamination.
In an August 27 post on its blog, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, a co-sponsor of Leno’s bill, says a signature by Brown would make it “possible for a third parent — such as a gay father who is raising a child with a lesbian couple –to have legal rights and responsibilities to protect and provide care for the child.”
The bill’s provisions apply equally to same sex and heterosexual marriages, Leno says.
For example, the bill could apply if a man began dating a woman while she was pregnant, then helped her raise the child while the child also maintained a parental relationship with their biological father. If the two custodial parents couldn’t care for the child the court, under Leno’s bill, could allow the biological father to do so.
Or a woman and her second husband are raising a child from her first marriage. They divorce. Leno’s bill would allow the biological father, to apply for custody rights.
Leno also makes a financial argument for the measure noting that if a court determines there are three or more parents all have an obligation to support the child.
“If a child has more than two parents, legal acknowledgement of more than two of those parents may keep the child out of foster care by giving the court more options for placement,” Leno says.
Brown has taken no position on the measure.
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