1+1=3: California's Case for Plural Parentage

This stimulating guest post is from Angelina Moyo, Regent 2L and current Family Law student:

How many parents does it take to restore a family to a child who needs one?  Effective January 1, 2014, in the state of California more than two persons can be legally deemed to be parents to a child. This legislative action was taken as a result of a 2012 case In Re M.C. in which three people asserted rights to parentage of a young girl named M.C.

The biological mother, Melissa, prior to her pregnancy was in a domestic partnership with a woman named Irene.  Irene and Melissa had a tumultuous relationship marked by substance and physical abuse. Despite the abuse Melissa and Irene filed for and lived together in a domestic partnership.  Melissa eventually left Irene, however, as a result of ongoing abuse, and began a personal relationship with a man named Jesus.  During her relationship with Jesus M.C. was conceived, and Melissa unilaterally filed for a dissolution of the domestic partnership with Irene.   Jesus supported Melissa during her pregnancy and knew undoubtedly that he was M.C.’s father. Approximately two months prior to the birth of M.C. Melissa left Jesus and reunited with Irene.  Her reunification with Irene led to a marriage between the two, and shortly thereafter M.C. was born.  Despite the apparently happy marriage, trouble boiled under the surface and Melissa and Irene ultimately separated as a result of ongoing substance abuse and domestic violence.  Melissa then convinced another man to assault Irene by brandishing a knife at her.  During the altercation the man ended up stabbing Irene and he and Melissa were shortly thereafter arrested.

When this happened M.C. became a ward of the court, and so began the process of attempting to figure out who in fact were M.C.’s parents and with whom should she be placed given her biological mother’s incarceration.  Irene argued that she was M.C.’s mother, because, she, though not biologically related, was M.C.’s mother as a result of the marriage between herself and Irene.  Jesus also asserted his rights to M.C. in that he was the biological father, though he had never been held himself out to be M.C.’s father and his name did not appear on her birth certificate.  In fact no man’s name appeared on M.C.’s birth certificate.

This case was then brought before the court to determine who should be deemed the legal parents of M.C.  to determine her family placement, according to the child's best interests (see http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1957143 ). In California, those who are considered parents to a child are presumed to be the first in line to take custody of a child. The problem here was in identifying M.C.’s legal parents.  It was clear that Melissa was her parent because Melissa is her biological mother, but who between Irene and Jesus was her other official Parent.  Both Irene and Jesus had clear support for a claim of parentage and clear opposition to a claim of parentage.  The court, attempting to widen the scope of what could be considered a parent offered dicta suggesting that the rules limiting parentage to two persons were archaic and due reconsideration.  Because the court could not change California’s parentage statute they argued strongly that the California legislature change it in favor of granting greater possibilities to who should be considered a parent.  The California Legislature took up the cause and passed Family Code statute 4052.5, which states in part that when a child has more than two potential parents the court shall divide child support obligations equally among the parties based on income of the parental parties.

What do you think? Should more than 2 people be considered parents?  Is it possible that granting more people the title of parent could be in the best interest of the child?  These three individuals will provide for M.C. an unstable family at best.  Even a state’s best efforts to provide parents for a child may still fall short of that child’s best interests.

1 comment:

  1. I think that the law produced the best result for M.C., a child who was in need of another parent. However, this law is probably going to be horrible for child who do not need additional parents. I can't imagine how complicated determining custody in cases where there are 4 or 5 parents would be.