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|07-14-2012, 05:39 AM||#1|
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Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Marty Robbins old hometown, Glendale Arizona--a suburb of Phoenix.
THE FOOT/FEET IN THE DOOR.........
July 13, 2012
Measure Opens Door to Three Parents, or Four
By IAN LOVETT
LOS ANGELES — Bill Delaney’s two little girls spend three nights a week with their fathers, at the home Mr. Delaney shares with his husband in San Francisco. The other nights, they stay with their mothers, a lesbian couple who live nearby.
The girls have four parents — a result of a kind of nontraditional family arrangement that has become increasingly common. But officially, California, like most other states, recognizes no more than two legal parents.
That limit could soon be lifted.
A bill moving through the California Legislature would allow judges to recognize more than two legal parents for a given child, opening the door for alternative families to seek legal recognition of their relationships.
“There are literally scores of different families and circumstances,” Mark Leno, the state senator who sponsored the bill, said.
“This is about putting the welfare of the child above all else,” he said.
As fewer children are raised in traditional two-parent households, Mr. Leno’s bill has moved California to the center of a growing debate over how — and whether — such alternative family arrangements should be legally recognized.
In just the last few years, Delaware and the District of Columbia have passed laws that allow for third “de facto parents,” who have the same rights and responsibilities toward their children as adoptive parents.
Meanwhile, courts in at least a half-dozen states, stretching from Oregon to Massachusetts, have also recognized three legal parents in a handful of cases over the last decade. Courts in Canada and New Zealand have as well.
Nancy Polikoff, a professor at the American University Washington College of Law, said those cases merely allowed the law to reflect the many different kinds of families that already exist in the 21st century.
“This is about looking at the reality of children’s lives, which are heterogeneous, as opposed to maintaining a fiction of homogeneity,” Professor Polikoff said. “Families are different from one another. If the law will not acknowledge that, then it’s not responding to the needs of children who do not fit into the one-size-fits-all box.”
Conservative groups, however, have called the California bill an attempt to redefine the family radically, opening the door for children to have six, eight, even a dozen parents.
“This bill is a Trojan horse for the same-sex-marriage agenda,” Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, said.
“Advocates for same-sex marriage are very interested in separating parentage and marriage from biological parentage, because that’s the one thing same-sex couples can never achieve,” he added.
The bill passed the California Senate on a party-line vote, with Democrats supporting it and Republicans opposed, and could reach the Assembly floor by next month.
Mr. Leno, a Democrat from San Francisco, insists that fears of children with dozens of parents are unrealistic. Third parents would still have to meet the same legal standards currently in place. A judge would also have to rule that it was in the child’s best interest to recognize a third parent.
Instead, Mr. Leno said he hoped that allowing the court to recognize a third or fourth parent could help keep children out of foster care in a small number of cases.
Mr. Leno’s bill follows a court case here last year in which a young girl being raised by two lesbian mothers was sent to foster care after a fight landed one mother in the hospital and the other in jail. The girl’s father, who had maintained a relationship with his daughter, asked the court to release her to his custody.
The trial court ruled that both mothers and the father were all parents. But a California appeals court reversed the decision, ruling that the child could have only two parents.
Still, parents hoping to keep their children out of foster care are hardly the only ones who hope to benefit if the bill becomes law.
In San Francisco, Mr. Delaney said, the two sets of parents go on vacations together with the children, have family dinners together and have signed agreements about how to handle situations like a falling-out.
But Mr. Delaney, who is the biological father of his two girls, is not currently one of their legal parents. He said his becoming a legal parent would give the whole family a greater feeling of security.
“This would be the final piece, so we don’t have to worry if something happens to the legal parents or if I am out with the kids and something happens,” he said. “Legally, they could just take my kids and I couldn’t do anything about it.”
And while many of the third-parent adoption cases have involved same-sex couples, heterosexual couples have also sought legal recognition for third parents.
In Portland, Ore., Sean Kane adopted his wife’s two children from her first marriage. But because they maintained close ties with their biological father, who now lives in California, Mr. Kane did not want the court to sever that legal relationship. Instead he pursued a third-parent adoption, which was finalized last year.
“I wanted to send the message to the children that they were my children, as far as I was concerned,” he said.
Mr. Kane’s adopted daughter, Sara Miner, 20, said: “If it were a choice between dropping my dad to be replaced by my stepdad, I would not have been open to it, but with a joint adoption you don’t have to battle about who is going to be Mom and who is going to be Dad. You can have a situation where everyone is happy and part of the family.”
Like other parents in nontraditional families, Mr. Kane also cited some practical concerns in his decision to become a legal parent: he wanted to be able to pick his children up from school without hassle and make sure they would be provided for if he died. Access to health insurance, tax deductions and potentially even citizenship can also hinge on these legal relationships.
Some critics of the California bill point out that the addition of another parent could open the door for particularly messy battles over custody or child support.
“If we are creating multiple parents for a child, we know that in approximately 50 percent of cases, parents are going to separate and possibly dispute what to do with that child,” said Diane Wasznicky, president of the Association of Certified Family Law Specialists.
“If divorce is difficult for children who have two parents, imagine it with three or four,” she added.
But Beth Allen, the lawyer who handled Mr. Kane’s adoption, said the possibility of divorce should not prevent judges from offering legal rights and protections to multiple people who were acting as parents.
“So often, we are struggling with parents who don’t want the responsibilities and obligations of parenting,” she said. “So when you have another parent willing to step up and take on those responsibilities, aren’t we so lucky?”