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Liat Sadler

Multiple Parents for Children

Posted on July 2, 2012

Mark Leno at the Grand Parade

In California, there is a definite upper limit on how many parents any one child can have: 2. State Senator Mark Leno introduced a bill, SB 1476, which blows the lid off that arbitrary number. It is a huge and important step in the right direction and has already passed the California State Senate (24-13) and has gotten an o.k. to head towards the Assembly before being anointed the law of the land.

Under California law, only certain parents deserve legal recognition. Legal recognition leads to protection of the relationship between the parent and child and has vast consequences, including the right to visitation, custody, and child support. The current formulation of the law (generally speaking) states that only certain men are presumed to be the father of a child: (1) one who was married to and living with the child’s mother at the time of birth, (2) one who signs a voluntary declaration of paternity (POP Dec), (3) one who attempted to marry the mother before or after birth, (4) one who receives the child into his home and holds out that child as his own.

So, what happens when a mom and the biological father sign a POP Dec but mom is married to another guy? Or a biological father who executes a POP Dec is a sperm donor, but mom is a lesbian and raises the child with her registered domestic partner? Or when mom’s boyfriend (not bio-dad) signs a POP Dec, marries mom, and then bio-dad petitions the court for genetic testing?

A mess ensues, one that has long-lasting and devastating consequences for the child.

In family law cases, the legal standard that governs most instances involving the care and custody of children is the best interest of the child. For too long, when it comes to the threshold question of who are the parents, California (and all states) have put arbitrary numbers and outdated and misplaced assumptions at the center of a child’s life. SB 1476, thankfully, puts the best interest of the child front and center again. It authorizes the court to determine that a child has more than two parents if doing so is in the best interest of the child “based on the nature, duration, and quality of the presumed or claimed parents’ relationships with the child and the benefit or detriment to the child of continuing those relationships.”

Image
California State Senator Mark Leno at the Grand Parade of the 2010
Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival in San Francisco, California.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)