Wednesday, March 16, 2022

In re Adoption of EB (Cal. Ct. App. - March 16, 2022)

I'm super pleased that the Court of Appeal finally elected to publish this opinion. I'm also somewhat surprised it didn't get more attention when it first came out -- or perhaps I'm missing something.  It seems like a super important case.

Fair warning: For many, this opinion might only seem to solidify California's reputation as a land of "fruits and nuts" -- and, to be clear, I'm talking about its people, not its produce. But I view it as the opposite.

Justice Raye writes the thing in a little bit of a peculiar fashion (for me, anyway), so I'm going to revise the introduction and statement of facts into an alternative that (I hope) gets the point across a bit more quickly. Here's how I'd have written it:

"Can a child have three parents, if everyone's cool with that? Sure. Why not.

Three people -- Mary, Jim, and Susan -- decided that they wanted to have and raise a child together. Mary, Jim and Susan have been in a committed, polyamorous relationship for 15 years. Logistically, it only takes two to tango and make a kid, so the three decided that Mary and Jim would be the biological parents, but that the three of them would raise the child together. (Technically, only Jim and Mary are married, since -- at least currently -- you can only have one spouse, so the choice of Jim and Mary also made a little bit of legal sense as well. They married back in 2007, back when only opposite sex couples could be married. Susan was part of this troika at the time, and has been ever since.)

So the three parents-to-be write all this down in a written agreement spelling out their mutual desires, and Mary gives birth to the child (Eddie) in May 2019. All three of the parents are present throughout the full labor and delivery process, as well as when (shortly after his birth) Eddie starts suffering complications and gets admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). 

After Eddie was (happily) discharged from the hospital, Susan -- who's a university professor -- elected not to teach classes in the summer, and then took a three-month maternity leave in the fall, which gave her a full six months to provide full-time care for Eddie. During those six months, Susan bottle-fed Eddie during the week, comforted him, engaged in age-appropriate play activities, coordinated and took him to doctors’ appointments, and took him to weekly swim lessons and library story time events. When Susan returned to work in January 2020, she went back only part time to allow her more time to care for Eddie. When the COVID pandemic began, all three of the parents began working from home and continued to share equally in parenting Eddie. Like he does with Jim and Mary, Eddie seeks out Susan for comfort, complains to her when he is hungry, and giggles at her efforts to amuse him. Eddie calls Susan “momma.” All three of them jointly discuss and agree upon parenting decisions for Eddie.

From the very beginning, the three parents wanted to formalize their committed co-parenting relationship with Eddie. Not only did they sign a written agreement, but shortly after his birth, the three sought to have Eddie adopted by Susan. California allows children to have three parents, though that's typically when there's a problem with one or more of the original parents. But the statute doesn't require such a problem, so the Susan, Mary and Jim all ask that Susan be added as one of Eddie's parents. The trial judge, however, was dubious, and wanted some cases about letting a third parent into the picture in settings (like this one) where there's not a problem with the first two. Finding none -- or, at least, nothing she liked -- the trial judge denied the request for the adoption. Even though everyone agreed to it and no one opposed it.

Given all that Susan had already done to parent the child, the trial court found (correctly) that Susan was a "presumed parent" under the statute. But the trial court thought that having two good parents was more than enough for anyone, so (barring any problems) there wasn't need for a third, and on that basis denied the consensual adoption.

But that's not the way California rolls. We reverse and remand for the reasons explained below."

I'm certain that Justice Raye would be at least slightly more formal than this, but I've just set forth pretty much everything you need to know about the facts. As well as (in a non-legal way) why the case comes out the way it does.

As far as I can tell, there were no amici who submitted briefs in the case, which is somewhat surprising to me. Or at least none are listed on the caption.

Also, I've made up the names of the parents; Justice Raye uses initials, which gets very confusing at times. Plus, unless I'm mistaken, the only time that Justice Raye mentions the would-be adoptive parent (who I call "Susan"), he refers to her simply as "appellant", rather than using her initials. Which, even beyond being a bit impersonal and clunky, is especially confusing here because the caption says that the only appellant is "M.B.", which is the initials of the biological mother (not the would-be parent). So unless "Mary" and "Susan" both have the initials "M.B.", there's either a mistake somewhere or it's inherently confusing -- maybe both.

Anyway, here's the takeaway: Yes, you can have three parents. At least potentially. Particularly in settings like this one and in which everyone's on board for it.

And, honestly, why not? The more the merrier. If three people want to take on the responsibility to raise a child, hey, more power to 'em.

So maybe it "takes a village" to raise a kid, and if, in that village, there are three particular people who want to mutually take on the primary responsibility, I can only say: (1) That's fine by me, and (2) mazel tov.