Our world continues to change rapidly. Whether it be new electronic devices, new medical breakthroughs, or as we’ve seen quite a bit of lately, new changes in the law. With those changes, come new definitions in how the law defines a family unit. Recently, the law changed allowing gays and lesbians to marry. Now, a recent bill which was signed into law by Governor Brown (SB274), tells us that a child can have more than two parents. The bill was introduced specifically to overturn a court’s decision relating to the child of a lesbian couple. In that case a child was born during the marriage of two women, but had been conceived as a result of a premarital relationship between one of the women and a man.
The new law states “(a) Most children have two parents, but in rare cases, children have more than two people who are that child’s parent in every way. Separating a child from a parent has a devastating psychological and emotional impact on the child, and courts must have the power to protect children from this harm.”
Although the new law appears to be directed toward children of same sex couples, I believe it will go well beyond that. An example of a situation I believe could have been helped by this new law involves a case I had in my office a few years ago. Dad and Mom had one daughter (I’ll call her Sarah). Mom abandoned Dad and Sarah when the child was still an infant. Dad was granted sole legal and sole physical custody of Sarah and Mom had no further contact with her. Subsequently, Dad met my client (I’ll call her Jill) and entered into a romantic relationship with her. Jill moved in with Dad and Sarah. Jill and Dad raised Sarah as if they were both her birth parents. Sarah never knew Jill was not her biological mother. When Sarah was about 12 years old, Jill and Dad separated. Sarah continued to live with Dad but Jill had visitation rights to Sarah, by verbal agreement between Jill and Dad.
All went well until Dad met his new honey and got married. Dad’s new wife (I’ll call her Cruella), whom Dad had told the true story regarding Sarah’s parentage, demanded that Sarah and Jill have no further contact. To compound things, Cruella, the wicked stepmother, took it upon herself to tell Sarah (without Dad’s knowledge or prior consent) that Jill was not her mother and that her birth mother had abandoned her! Luckily, we were able to reach an out of court settlement agreement with Dad so that Sarah and Jill could continue to have a relationship. However, it wasn’t easy and the law at that time was not favorable to Jill as she had no parental rights to Sarah. I believe this new law would have given us legal ammunition had it been necessary to ask the court for visitation rights of Sarah for Jill.
I’ll discuss the ambiguities created by this law in a future article.
Pamela Edwards-Swift, Certified Family Law Specialist, 2010, 2011, 2012 & 2013; Southern California Super Lawyer