California’s new three-parent family bill a no-brainer for Canadians

Sheryl Nadler
Shine OnJuly 6, 2012

Jane and Julie, a fictional same-sex couple in California, have a son with a man named Steve. Steve is as much a part of his son Bobby's life as are Jane and Julie, but current California law only recognizes two parents per child.

A new bill, proposed by Senator Mark Leno, seeks to change that, reports Despite right-wing criticisms that the bill contributes to the erosion of the traditional family unit, Leno would like to see three or more parents per family be recognized equally in the eyes of the law, when it's in the best interest of the child .

The question for Canadians is, what are our laws regarding multiple parents? Seeing as same-sex marriage is not nearly as polarizing an issue as in the U.S., do our current family laws regarding multiple parents reflect our acceptance of same-sex couples?

The short answer is, yes. Though it's important to note family laws differ by province.

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Hamilton-based family lawyer Mary Elizabeth Kneeland says Ontario law already recognizes more than two parents per child and has for some time. As for other provinces, she imagines the laws would be similar.

"It's not unusual for a young person who's a parent to have joint custody with their parents," she says. "It's more likely to award custody to a 15-year-old if he or she lives at home and has the backup of their parents. So in that case, you could have joint custody between three people."

Kneeland says the laws would pertain to same-sex families in the same way, but only if it's in the best interest of the child.

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As a matter of fact, things can get tricky for the non-biological parents in a family when you factor in child support. Every person who has legal responsibility for the child must help to financially support that child. But in the case of a step-parent, it is not always clear when that person has legal responsibility for a child.

For example, if a mother and her child move in with her new boyfriend who declares from the beginning that he will pay all the bills, but that he in no way intends to be a parent to the child, he will probably be absolved from any financial responsibility when the couple splits up, says Kneeland. It's another story, however, if the boyfriend intended to be a parent to the child and stated as much.

"We caution clients," she says. "If you split up a year down the road and you've acted like a parent, you can be responsible for paying support until that kid is out of school."

Watch the video below about a mom who gave beer to her two-year-old child at a restaurant.

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