In 2013, California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that allows children in the state to have up to three legal parents. The legislation overruled a long-standing precedent in California that said children can have no more than two legal parents.

What parental situations does the three-parent law address?

The most common scenario where the three-parent law comes into play in California is when a same-sex couple has a child and wants to include the biological parent as a third legally recognized parent.

For example, a man in California who isn’t the biological father of a child can gain legal parental status of the child under the three-parent law in multiple scenarios, including:

  • Marrying the mother of the child on a date that is before the date of the child’s birth
  • Welcoming the child into his home and accepting him or her as his own child
  • Adjudication or acknowledgement of paternity
  • Assertion of parental rights

In addition, a woman in California who isn’t the biological mother of a child can also gain legal parental status by:

  • Marrying the mother of the child
  • Welcoming the child into her home and accepting him or her as her own

Other parental situations addressed by the law include scenarios where a woman is married to one person and becomes pregnant by another, in which case both the spouse and the biological father may be considered legal parents.

What does the law mean for children and parents?

While the vast majority of children in California have two legal parents, the law makes it possible for children to have an additional legal parent when the court rules that a situation where limiting the number of legal parents to two would be detrimental to the child’s development and well-being.

In addition, the law also protects children from being harmed by the possible separation from parental figures and caregivers due to the state’s previous two-parent law.