Parenting has changed considerably over the years in Washington state and elsewhere from the nuclear-family norm of most of the 20th century to the wide variety of arrangements we see today. In the state of Washington, all family law matters are governed by state law, including how many legal parents a child can have.
At least one state is considering moving away from the standard of two legal parents for every child to permitting a child to have more than two legal parents. A bill working its way through the California legislature would permit the state to recognize multiple parents.
The implications of a state moving away from the traditional two-parent arrangement are significant. Instead of family law judges considering the best interests of the child in awarding custody to one of two parents, for example, three or more people might be able to theoretically step forward to care for the child.
The case that triggered the proposed legislation involved a woman and her same-sex partner. The women had temporarily separated and one of the women had an affair with a man. The woman who had the affair became pregnant. All three adults had an interest in having parental rights to the child.
A change in the law to accommodate multiple parents in family law matters is not without its problems. Because the proposed change is limited to family law, other areas of the law might not immediately follow suit and the potential for litigation would be very high. Many different rights, privileges and responsibilities are affected by determinations of parenthood, including probate, public assistance, Social Security, taxes, citizenship and school notifications.
Other critics assert that requiring children to split their time between more than two adults will be confusing and result in more instability for the children.
Gay and lesbian couples in blended families have long understood that parental function does not necessarily equate to legal parenthood. The recognition of gay marriage in Washington state has set the stage for family court judges now being faced with complex parenting and child support proposals. It remains to be seen how Washington state lawmakers will respond to changes in families.
Source: The Seattle Times, "California bill would allow a child to have more than two parents," Jim Sanders, July 2, 2012