(Sacramento, CA, October 4, 2013)—Gov. Jerry Brown today signed legislation authored by Senator Mark Leno that protects the financial and emotional security of children who have more than two legal parents. Senate Bill 274 allows courts to recognize the rights and responsibilities of each parent if recognizing only two parents would be detrimental to the child.
“The structure of today’s families is evolving, and courts need the ability to recognize these changes so children are supported by the adults that play a central role in loving and caring for them,” said Senator Leno, D-San Francisco. “This legislation gives courts the flexibility to protect a child who is being supported by more than two parents when failing to do so would have harmful consequences for the child. It is critical that judges have the ability to recognize the roles of all parents so that no child has to endure separation from one of the adults he or she has always known as a parent.”
SB 274 does not change who can be a parent under California law. It applies only when there are more than two people who already meet the state’s strict legal definition of being a parent. The bill also does not change the law to recognize people who are not parents, like stepparents, grandparents, babysitters and temporary caretakers.
The bill is sponsored by the Children’s Advocacy Institute and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).
“This bill provides vital protections for children in families that California law has failed to recognize in the past,” said NCLR Family Protection Project Director Cathy Sakimura. “All children deserve to have the legal, financial, emotional, and psychological benefits that come from legal recognition of their families.”
“Everyone who places the interests of children first and realizes that judges shouldn’t be forced to rule in ways that hurt children should cheer this bill becoming law,” said Ed Howard, senior counsel for the Children’s Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law.
A 2011 California Court of Appeal case, In re M.C., ruled that courts do not have the authority to recognize more than two parents, regardless of the situation, even if recognizing a third parent would protect the child from harm. In that case, the court concluded that it could not recognize a third parent even if it meant that the child must be placed in foster care instead of being cared for by the parent. The court agreed that there could be cases where recognizing more than two parents would protect a child’s best interests and called upon the Legislature to address this issue.
Four other states, Delaware, Louisiana, Maine, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia already recognize that more than two people can have the legal responsibility of parenting a child.
SB 274 becomes state law on January 1, 2014.