California Bill Would Expand Criteria for Legal Designation as Parent of a Child

August 9, 2012
By Thomas M. Huguenor on August 9, 2012 1:01 PM |

838397_54880119.jpgA bill pending in the California Legislature, SB 1476, would modify the Family Code by allowing a court to designate more than two people as legal parents of a child, if the court concludes that doing so would be in the child's best interest.

State Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, introduced the bill on February 24, 2012. He says that it would amend California law to match the present reality of many families. State law allows a court to designate a person other than a child's biological parent as a legal "parent," but it explicitly limits the number of parents to two. The bill, if enacted, could impact children in families with unmarried parents, step-parents, or parents in same-sex relationships. Critics, in addition to rhetoric about changing the definition of family, contend that the bill could expose children to further stress in the event of a divorce, as custody could be split three or more ways, instead of just two.

Senator Leno's inspiration for the bill, according to Debra Saunders of the North County Times, was a child known in court documents as "M.C." M.C.'s biological parents had a brief relationship but never married. M.C.'s mother, "Melissa," married her former partner "Irene" during the brief period when same-sex marriages were legal in California. M.C.'s biological father, "Jesus," provided support for the child. Melissa later sought a divorce from Irene and started a new relationship. Melissa's new boyfriend, allegedly with Melissa's "complicity," stabbed Irene. Jesus, who by then lived in Oklahoma, sought custody of M.C. Because Irene was legally married to Melissa when M.C. was born, she was the presumed second parent under California law.

A family court considered M.C.’s best interests between Melissa, who was under criminal investigation; Irene, who was unemployed and living in a friend’s substandard apartment; and Jesus, who was employed and engaged to be married in Oklahoma. The court ruled that all three adults were M.C.’s “presumed parents,” but an appellate court overruled the order because California does not allow more than two parents. Despite being the biological father, Jesus had no way to assert parental rights. This was when Leno decided to introduce the bill. Saunders says she followed up on M.C.’s story and learned that Melissa lost her parental rights, and that the child lives with Jesus in Oklahoma.

The Uniform Parentage Act, codified in California in Family Code § 7600 et seq., specifically identified parental rights as consisting of a “mother and child relationship” and a “father and child relationship.” It provides conditions in which a man is presumed to be a child’s father, including marriage to the child’s mother at the time of the child’s birth, and it essentially requires resolution of competing presumptions of paternity. Child custody provisions in the Family Code specifically reference custody between both parents, thereby setting the maximum at two.

SB 1476 would amend three Family Code sections, 3040, 7601, and 7612, to allow parental relationships between a child and more than two people, provided it is in the child’s best interest. It would also add a new section, 4052.5, addressing division of custody and apportionment of child support among more than two parents.

For more than 35 years, San Diego divorce lawyer Thomas Huguenor has represented people finding their way through the California divorce and child custody process. For a free and confidential consultation, contact him today online or at (858) 458-9500.

More Blog Posts:

Court Upholds Termination of California Man's Parental Rights, San Diego Divorce Attorney Blog, July 5, 2012

Father of 30 Seeks Help With Child Support Bill, San Diego Divorce Attorney Blog, May 17, 2012

Man Who Abandoned His Son to Move to California is Denied Visitation and Custody, San Diego Divorce Attorney Blog, February 29, 2012

Photo credit: 'Playing with Daddy' by alphao on stock.xchng.