Proposed Law Opens Door to More Than Two Legal Parents at a Time

I always have to tell my Adoption Law class that the reason a child can't be adopted until parental rights of the birth parents are terminated is that American law recognizes that a child can have no more than two parents at a time.  The New York Times reports that California might change that:
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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.”
For the same reasons I approve of stepparent/second-parent adoptions, I think this is a good thing. The more people who are legally obligated to support a child, the better! It means that children are less likely to be orphaned, less likely to end up in foster care, less likely to live in poverty, less likely to worry about all of those things.  And to the extent it presages adoptions without birth parent relinquishment (that's essentially what happened when Sean Kane adopted his stepchildren without having their bio dad's rights terminated!), it could be a very, very good thing for openness in adoption.