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Can a Child Legally Have More than Two Parents in California?

Many children have two parents; in rare cases, a child, or children, may have more than two people acting as parents in every way. Separating a child from a parent has a devastating psychological and emotional impact on the child, including when separating a child from the person whom the child regards as a parent. The courts in the state of California have the power to protect children from this harm.

Certain specific circumstances may support more than two people being considered the legal parents of a child. In California, before January 1, 2014 when Senate Bill 274 was passed, the court would not choose more than two people to be the legal parents of a child, regardless of the facts. When Senate Bill 274 was passed by the Legislature, courts were empowered to name more than two people the legal parents of a child – if in the best interests of the child. The purpose of Senate Bill 274 was to abrogate In re M.C., 195 Cal.App.4th 197 (2011), insofar as it held that where there are more than two people who have a claim to parentage under the Uniform Parentage Act, courts are prohibited from recognizing more than two of these people as the parents of a child, regardless of the circumstances.

Senate Bill 274 authorizes the court to find that more than two people with a claim to parentage are parents if the court finds that recognizing that only two parents would be detrimental to the child. The bill would direct the court, in making this determination, to consider all relevant factors, including, but 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.

For instance, a child, in addition to his/her biological father and biological mother, may have another man – mother’s boyfriend or husband – who has played a fatherly role, despite lacking a biological relationship to the child. In this case, the court may rule that all three people are legally the child’s parents. Moreover, this same conclusion may be reached when a same-gender couple is involved: both people can be legal parents in addition to the biological mother and/or father.

Senate Bill 274 does not change the definition of a parent under California law; rather, it allows more than two people to be legally named parents if each adult qualifies under California's definition of "parent." If a child was raised by someone in a parental role - a biological parent's spouse or significant other or partner -the Court may legally acknowledge this person as a parent if the Court finds that not granting this recognition or not granting legal parental rights would be detrimental to the child.

This law does not automatically mean that grandparents raising their grandchildren will be seen as the children’s legal parents; nor a stepparent will be made a legal parent of the child. If children were raised with the impression or belief that a grandparent or stepparent was/is their biological parent, the court may find that revealing the truth would be detrimental to the children. In this case, Senate Bill 274 allows the court to decide that the grandparent or stepparent is the legal parent in addition to the biological parents.

Moreover, this bill does not mean that more than two parents are entitled to parenting or visitation time. If it is not seen to be in the child’s best interest, the court will not allocate parenting time to more than one or two parents.

To learn more about this bill and how we can help you, contact our experienced California family law attorneys today.