MOD­ERN FAMILY TIES

Courts in­creas­ingly al­low more than 2 par­ents to 1 child

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY JEN­NIFER PELTZ Anita Jones Thomas, Univer­sity of In­di­anapo­lis pro­fes­sor

NEW YORK | Six­teen-year-old Madi­son’s family clus­tered for a photo in a Cal­i­for­nia court­room, com­mem­o­rat­ing the day it fi­nally be­came of­fi­cial that she has three par­ents.

The adults she calls Mom, Dad and Mama were all there for her birth, af­ter the women de­cided to have a child to­gether and ap­proached a male friend. They shared time with Madi­son and in­put on rais­ing her. Their Christ­mas Day tra­di­tions in­volve all of them.

But legally, Vic­to­ria Bianchi be­came her daugh­ter’s par­ent only this fall, join­ing a small but grow­ing num­ber of Amer­i­cans who have per­suaded courts and leg­is­la­tures to give le­gal recog­ni­tion to what’s some­times called “tri-parenting.”

“I just felt like I’ve been hold­ing my breath for the last 16 years,” Ms. Bianchi said. “She’s al­ready been my daugh­ter … she’s fi­nally, legally mine.”

Ms. Bianchi made use of a 2013 Cal­i­for­nia law declar­ing that a child can have more than two par­ents. A sim­i­lar law took effect in Maine last year. Courts in at least 10 other states, in­clud­ing New York just this win­ter, have des­ig­nated third par­ents in re­cent years, even as some courts and ex­perts have raised qualms that more par­ents means more po­ten­tial con­flict.

Amer­i­can courts have for decades granted some rights to grand­par­ents, step­par­ents and oth­ers in chil­dren’s lives, but par­ents have uniquely broad rights and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

Ad­vo­cates say ac­knowl­edg­ing a third par­ent — whether on a birth cer­tifi­cate, by adop­tion, or in a cus­tody or child sup­port rul­ing — re­flects the mod­ern re­al­i­ties of some fam­i­lies: gay cou­ples who set out to have a child with a friend of another gen­der, men seek­ing to re­tain pa­ter­nal roles af­ter DNA shows some­one else is a bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther, and other sit­u­a­tions.

The land­scape is only get­ting more com­plex. For in­stance, new tech­niques de­signed to avoid some rare dis­eases now al­low for a child to be born with a small amount of DNA from a third per­son.

With­out le­gal rights, some par­ents and kids face be­ing cut off from each other, says Cathy Sakimura of the San Fran­cisco-based Na­tional Cen­ter for Les­bian Rights, which helped draft Cal­i­for­nia’s law.

But some courts have re­jected ex­tend­ing the bounds of par­ent­hood. A 2014 Wy­oming Supreme Court de­ci­sion won­dered about par­ents mul­ti­ply­ing as a mom or dad had new re­la­tion­ships.

While there’s lit­tle if any re­search di­rectly on tri-parenting, ex­perts are di­vided on how it may af­fect chil­dren.

Anita Jones Thomas, a Univer­sity of In­di­anapo­lis pro­fes­sor who heads the Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion’s child-and-family sec­tion, sees po­ten­tial pluses.

“That ex­tra sense of so­cial sup­port has re­ally been found to be ben­e­fi­cial for chil­dren,” Ms. Thomas says.

But W. Brad­ford Wil­cox, a Univer­sity of Vir­ginia so­ci­ol­o­gist, points to re­search — not on tri-parenting specif­i­cally — show­ing that chil­dren in sta­ble, two-par­ent fam­i­lies do bet­ter on av­er­age ed­u­ca­tion­ally, emo­tion­ally and oth­er­wise than kids who aren’t.

“This is go­ing to be a family form where chil­dren are ex­posed to more com­plex­ity and more in­sta­bil­ity,” Mr. Wil­cox says.

When a quip about hav­ing a baby to­gether turned into a se­ri­ous dis­cus­sion, Kitty Stil­lufsen, her long­time friend Darren Green­blatt and his now-hus­band, Sam Hunt, didn’t fore­see how com­plex tri-parenting would get.

The girl was born in 2009, with Mr. Green­blatt’s and Ms. Stil­lufsen’s genes and Mr. Hunt’s last name. They spent part of the in­fant’s early months to­gether in Ms. Stil­lufsen’s New Jersey home. Later, the Man­hat­tan-based men rented a house in Ms. Stil­lufsen’s sea­side home­town in sum­mers, her busy sea­son be­cause she’s man­ag­ing her family’s restau­rant. She and the pre-schooler spent win­ters in Costa Rica.

“We’re a family. We’re the real thing,” Ms. Stil­lufsen told Marie Claire mag­a­zine in 2011.

By 2013, Ms. Stil­lufsen was plan­ning to marry a boyfriend in Cal­i­for­nia and en­roll the girl in school there. The men ob­jected and sued for cus­tody.

Find­ing that Mr. Hunt was a “psy­cho­log­i­cal par­ent,” a New Jersey judge awarded cus­tody in 2015 to all three adults and nixed Ms. Stil­lufsen’s planned move. All now live in New Jersey.

“That ex­tra sense of so­cial sup­port has re­ally been found to be ben­e­fi­cial for chil­dren.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Madi­son Bon­ner-Bianchi (top) is with her three par­ents (from left) Kim­berli Bon­ner, Vic­to­ria Bianchi and Mark Shumway in Oakland, Cal­i­for­nia. The adults she calls Mom, Dad and Mama were all there for her birth. But legally, Vic­to­ria Bianchi be­came her par­ent only in Oc­to­ber of last year.

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