Will California ‘split the child’?

The news is reporting on another troubling development from California, where the state Senate is considering a bill that would specifically allow the government to designate more than two “parents” for a child. Although radical, this idea is not entirely novel. A handful of state legislatures and courts have endorsed the idea of multiple parents for a child, usually in the context of disputes involving a mother, her partner and a sperm donor.

The reason these kinds of laws are disastrous are not difficult to see (though ideology seems to blind their advocates to them). Courts may presumptuously decide that three or more adults should get a say in a child’s upbringing, but a child’s time, educational opportunities, loyalty, etc., can’t always be divided without doing harm to the child. It is clear that children have additional challenges when they must navigate a world shaped by conflicts between their own mother and father during a divorce. Is there any doubt these problems will be compounded when there are even more adults demanding a say in a child’s life and making demands on the child? 

Sure, a court may divide the hours in a week by four and make a child shuffle from place to place. A child can only go to one school or pursue one kind of medical treatment or whatever, even if three adults all have their differing opinions about what it should be. Who will mediate these disputes? The government, of course, which may explain some of the enthusiasm for this social experiment among those who favor an expansive state. But can the government help a child figure out how they should feel about and relate to mom, dad, dad’s new wife, mother’s new boyfriend or to mom, her partner, a sperm donor biological father and the father’s partner?

There’s also good reason to believe the kinds of people courts are likely to designate “parents” may not be ideal for a child. It is absolutely clear that cohabiting partners of a child’s parent are often a risk factor for bad outcomes for children.

Could this ever happen in Utah? Each legislative session a bill or two is proposed that would allow the courts to say that a parent’s cohabiting partner is the child’s “parent” despite no ties of biology or marriage. These efforts have been unsuccessful so far, but there will be a need for vigilance here lest we follow the path of our sister state to the left.

For more information, see “The Legal Fiction of De Facto Parenthood” in the Journal of Legislation.

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