More than Two Legal Parents Recognized in California Family Law Courts – Part I

three-parent-family.jpgIf you open up a fresh copy of the 2014 Family Law Code and do some heavy reading, you might notice the modifications to Section 3040, 4057, 7601, and 8617 as well as the addition of Section 4052.5. Back in October 2013 new legislation was signed which now allows California Courts to recognize that children can have more than two legal parents. Although conservative groups viewed this new legislation as an attack on the traditional family structure, the purpose of these new and modified sections is to address changes in family structure that are often present in California. These include the “not so uncommon anymore” situation of a same-sex couple having a child with a biological parent of the opposite sex.

The basis for the legislation apparently arose as a reaction to a 2011 court decision (In re M.C (2011) 195 Cal.App.4th 197) that involved a same-sex couple who ended their relationship for a brief amount of time. One of the women conceived a child with a man (and began raising that child with the man) prior to resuming her relationship with the other woman, whom she ended up marrying shortly thereafter. After a fight put one of the women in the hospital and the other in jail, the child was sent to foster care because although all three adults seemed to meet the criteria to be a legal parent of the child, the biological father did not have parental rights under the law at the time. The court reasoned that it was prohibited from recognizing that more than two people may claim a right to parentage.

In response to the Court’s ruling in In re M.C., the Family Code was modified to give Courts the authority to expand the interpretation of the parent and child relationship. Specifically, Family Code Section 7601 provides that Courts are not precluded from making “a finding that a child has a parent and child relationship with more than two parents.”

three-parent.jpgAllowing the Courts to recognize that a child may have three or more legal parents is quite significant for purposes allocating custody and financial responsibility during and after a dissolution proceeding. With regard to the allocation of custody and visitation, Family Code Section 3040 has also been modified to provide for the following: “In cases where a child has more than two parents, the court shall allocate custody and visitation among the parents based on the best interest of the child, including, but not limited to, addressing the child’s need for continuity and stability by preserving established patterns of care and emotional bonds. The court may order that not all parents share legal or physical custody of the child if the court finds that it would not be in the best interest of the child as provided in Sections 3011 and 3020.” [emphasis added].

As a result of this modification, Courts have the ability to prevent children from being separated from an adult that he or she has always known as a “parent” simply because of a technicality in the law. This modified section allows Courts to place the interest of the children first by giving them the authority to protect children from the emotional and psychological impact of being separated from one of his or her parents. Thus, rather than having to place a child in foster care, the Courts are now able to consider the presence of someone who has played a vital parental role in the child’s life.

If you find yourself in a custody dispute in San Diego and are trying to decide what is the best custody situation for you, your spouse and your children, contact our office. Nancy J. Bickford is the only lawyer in San Diego who represents clients experiencing divorce, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 from all areas of San Diego County, including Encinitas, Escondido, Vista, and beyond.

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