Wednesday, September 02, 2009

De Facto Parents

Now children can have multiple legal parents without biology, adoption, or marriage.
By William C. Duncan

In his 1988 book Silent Revolution, Herbert Jacob described how one of the most significant changes to family law in the 20th century, no-fault divorce, began in California and spread through the states with very little public debate or controversy. This remarkable transformation was presented, and largely accepted, as routine policymaking in the domain of legal experts.

Similarly, a revolution in the legal understanding of parenthood seems to have quietly begun with little or no public debate or discussion. This dramatically transformative development is the statutory recognition of “de facto” parenthood — the notion that an unrelated individual (usually the unmarried partner of a biological parent, but potentially any adult) can be designated as the legal “parent” of a child by virtue of an agreement with a biological or adoptive parent, or even just a relationship with the child. In some cases, three or more people may be designated “parents” of the same child. While a handful of state courts have endorsed the idea in the context of disputes between same-sex couples jointly raising children, not until very recently has a legislature endorsed it.

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