Recently I was catching up with my long time friend and private investigator, Wendy, who proudly informed me that all four of her daughter’s mothers endorsed the decision to send their daughter to Tulane. Yes, four mothers! What may seem unusual to many people was perfectly natural in this girl’s family – she has four Moms who raised her, all active parents in her life.
In today’s modern families there can be 3 or 4 parents and, they may all be of the same sex. Our life styles and partner choices enhanced by biological means far outpace our laws and our legislature’s abilities to keep up with what the modern family has evolved into.
As an example, right now in California, we have a strange legal conundrum that belies the truth about how many of our families are structured. For years courts had held there could be legally only one Mom or one Dad, and courts have strained to follow that logic even when it is clear from the child’s history that the child has had more than one active Dad or Mom as parents. Recently the Appellate Court held there can be only two legal parents. (In re M.C. (2011) 195 Cal.App.4th 197.) There is a bill (SB 1476 Leno) (http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/11-12/bill/sen/sb_1451-1500/sb_1476_cfa_20120507_170523_sen_comm.html) pending now before the California legislature that would finally recognize what has been a reality for the last 30 years – many children in real life can and do have more than one active parent of each sex, and after the break-up of the parental relationship, they should have access to all the parents who raised them. The bill would allow the courts to recognize that a child might have two legally presumed parents, not just one, and to issue orders in the child’s best interest involving both parents. Currently, four other states (Pennsylvania, Maine, Delaware, and District of Columbia) have recognized that there are situations where a child can have more than two people in his or her life with the rights and responsibilities of parents.
My favorite case that highlights legal obtuseness involves a baby, with six potential parents and a court which held the baby had no parents! Real life and the courts clashed over whether baby (Jaycee Buzzanca) had any parents at all back in 1998 and in the ensuing 15 years we are not much further along in recognizing all the variables of parenting. There were six adults involved in the creation and birth of this baby; yet the Orange County court found she had no parents at all!
How did Jaycee came into this world? Jaycee was born as a result of Luanne and John Buzzanca’s decision to have an embryo genetically unrelated to either of them implanted in a woman surrogate, who would carry and give birth to the child for them. Egg and sperm donors were used to create the embryo which was carried to term by the surrogate. After the pregnancy, Luanne and John split up, and the question arose as to who were Jaycee’s lawful parents. Luanne claimed she and her erstwhile husband were the lawful parents since they contracted with the surrogate to have the child, but John disclaimed any responsibility, financial or otherwise. The woman who gave birth gave up her claim to the child. The trial court determined that Jaycee had no lawful parents at all! Luanne had to fight to be recognized as a parent so she could assume custody. A finding of no parents meant that this baby could not be placed with Luanne as her mother. It took the appellate court to create a new type of parent, an “intended parent” to straighten this out and find Luanne to be the parent and make John pay child support. (In re Marriage of Buzzanca, 61 Cal.App.4th 1410, 72 Cal.Rptr.2d 280 (Ct. App. 1998)).
How could this have come about – six adults and no legal parents? The law at the time recognized biological parents, but then due to advances in science and surrogacy, that relationship had to be differentiated between gestational and genetically related mothers. However the law had not kept up with the trends in society. Luanne Buzzanca was neither a gestational or genetically related mother. While the law in effect in 1998 had recognized sperm donors and laid out a system where a sperm donor did not have to assume financial responsibility, there was no such law on the books for egg donors for years after that possibility became a reality. Although surrogacy was indeed a fact of life, there were no laws governing surrogacy. Those who engaged in surrogacy made up their own contracts hoping for the best, and hoping to avoid a custody dispute later on since clearly the gestational Mom, the surrogate, was “biologically” related to the child and entitled to custody.
As for finding John a legal Dad, he had no biological relationship to baby Jaycee. Furthermore, he was not a legally “presumed” father because he and Luanne split up during the pregnancy and he never “held himself out” as Jaycee’s father or took her into his home. So he did not fit the definition of a presumed father under the law. We had a patch work of laws on our books that could not be bent far enough to cover the creation of this baby. So, the appellate court had to make up a new category of parent, an “intended” parent to cover a parent who sets into motion the birth of a child.
What do you think? Can a Child Have More Than Two Parents? Please leave a comment below.