According to an article in the U-T San Diego, California could become the fifth state in the country to allow a judge to declare that a child has more than two legal parents. Under the current law, courts are permitted to recognize a maximum of two people as a child’s parents. Establishing parentage and child custody rights are complicated matters. There are many legal principles to consider as well as the needs of the family. An experienced family law attorney can help parents sort through the process to achieve a desirable arrangement for your situation.
Senator Mark Leno, from San Francisco, introduced S.B. 274 in February of this year. The bill would amend the state Family Code to allow a court to find that a child may have a “parent-child” relationship with more than two parents. The legislation specifically includes qualifying language limiting the court’s authority. For example, a court could find that more than two people who are claiming parentage — are parents — where it would be detrimental to the child to find otherwise.
It has been reported that the bill was inspired by a California court case involving a girl whose legal parent could not care for her and whose biological father was deemed not a parent. Unfortunately, the child was placed in state custody because one legal parent was hospitalized and her birth mother had become incarcerated. Under the proposed legislation, the court would be required to look at a variety of relevant factors before making the determination as to parentage. Some of the factors include, but are not limited to, the harm of removing the child from a stable placement with a parent who has fulfilled the child’s physical needs and the child’s psychological needs for care and affection, and who has assumed that role for a substantial period of time.
According to Assemblyman Mark Stone, this court authorization would not be used frequently. It is expected to be invoked — not when children have too many parents — but in situations where they have too few. Currently, only the District of Columbia and four states – Louisiana, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Maine – have laws that enable a child to have greater than two legally recognized parents.
In a California parentage (or paternity) case, the court renders an order identifying the child’s legal parents. Establishing parentage is required before a court will order child custody, visitation, or child support. Once a person is established as the mother or father of a child, he or she will have all the rights and responsibilities of a parent. It is important to note that if a person is established as a legal parent of a child, that person MUST financially support the child or face criminal charges.
S.B. 274 recently has been approved by the state Assembly, and now it is headed to the Senate. It is expected that the bill will be presented to the Governor for his signature. Like most laws addressing child custody matters, the ultimate goal is to achieve an outcome that would benefit the child.
Parents with questions about child custody matters are encouraged to contact Doppelt & Forney. Mr. Doppelt is a knowledgeable family law attorney with more than 20 years of experience representing parents in Southern California. Doppelt & Forney serves clients in Linda Vista, Encinitas, Scripps Ranch, San Diego, and throughout Southern California. For a consultation with a dedicated family lawyer, contact Doppelt & Forney through the law firm’s website or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).
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