It might be an unlikely scenario for most families, but in California, it is absolutely possible for a child to have more than two legal parents. This means that three – or even more – people could potentially claim to be a legal parent of a child.
Back in 2013, the California Legislature enacted S.B. 274, which ended a long-held legal precedent that a child can only have two legal parents. The law was a reaction to a 2011 case (In re M.C. (2011) 195 Cal.App.4th 197) where the appellate court declined to decide against this precedent.
The case concerned a child fathered by a man, living in Oklahoma, with whom the child’s biological mother had a relationship before her marriage to a woman. The child was born into the women’s marriage, which raised the question of whether or not the father was a legal parent to the child.
The court found that the child had three presumptive parents:
- A biological mother, because she gave birth to the child
- A presumptive mother, because she was married to the biological mother at the time of the child’s birth
- A presumptive father (which confers greater parental rights than biological or alleged fathers)
The father, though, was considered by the court to be a “quasi-presumptive father” because although he attempted to assert his parental rights upon first learning of his child’s existence, he didn’t meet another requirement for legal parentage because he was living in Oklahoma while the child lived in California.
The requirement the court said he failed to meet was Family Code section 7011(d), which states that “the presumed parent receives the child into their home and openly holds out the child as their natural child.” As he was living in another state, the court ultimately classified him as a quasi-presumptive father and ruled that he could not seek parental rights over his child because two presumptive parents (the maximum number allowed at the time) were already found.
So, when California’s legislature enacted S.B. 274, it was a big deal. In theory, it meant that a child could have an unlimited number of legal parents.
Now when judges are considering parental rights, they must take a few things into account: which parent is more likely to permit the child to have frequent and continuing contact with the noncustodial parent(s) and the harm of removing a child from a stable placement with a parent who meets the child’s needs.