Three Partners, Three Parents? New Laws Reflect Changing Family Dynamics

In a move that clearly won’t draw any controversy or criticism, a Brazilian official has accepted an application for a three-person civil union, reports the BBC. Meanwhile, the California State Assembly has approved a bill that would allow a child to have more than two legal parents.

Public Notary Claudia do Nascimento Domingues, an official in Sao Paolo, Brazil, has said the man and two women should be entitled to family rights, and that there is nothing in law to prevent such an arrangement.


“For better or worse, it doesn’t matter, but what we considered a family before isn’t necessarily what we would consider a family today,” Ms. Dominguez told the BBC.

The three individuals, who have declined to speak to the press and whose names aren’t being released, have lived in Rio de Janeiro together for three years and share bills and other expenses. The three also have a joint checking account with all three names on the account.

Religious groups are up in arms, as is at least one lawyer, who says the union will not be allowed to remain in place.

Regina Beatriz Tavares da Silva, an attorney, told the BBC it was “absurd and totally illegal”, and “something completely unacceptable which goes against Brazilian values and morals”. Ms. da Silva is president of the Commission for the Rights of the Family within the Institute of Lawyers.

The civil union was approved a month ago, but only became public this week, when it was first reported by G1, a Portugese-language website.  Civil unions were introduced in Brazil in 2004, reports TIME. Civil unions were primarily intended to recognize partnerships between same-sex couples, although civil unions for heterosexual couples are also permitted, as an alternative to marriage. Also, couples may convert their civil union into marriage with the approval of a state judge, says The Telegraph. In July 2011, a judge in Sao Paulo approved the country’s first gay marriage, when he ruled two men could convert their union.


What’s interesting to me about all this is the logistics. I couldn’t care less what consenting adults do in their private lives, but I’m super-curious about how a three-person union might play out in things like health insurance and family courts. They’ve apparently got their finances worked out with that joint checking account. But what happens if the union fails? Can you collect spousal support from more than one spouse? And how many spouses can you add onto your health benefits?

None of the news reports indicate whether or not the trio has any children, but I do have to wonder how the health benefits would work for them. Would non-biological children have to be legally adopted by a whole set of co-parents to qualify for health care benefits?

We may find out about some of these issues a little closer to home. The California State Assembly just passed a bill this week that would allow for more than two legal parents, reports the Associated Press in a separate story. According to ABC News, a handful of other states have similar laws already: Pennsylvania, Maine, Delaware, and the District of Columbia.

The California bill, introduced by California State Senator Mark Leno, is intended to give family courts the flexibility to protect children who have parent-child relationships with more than two people.

“A child who has been raised since birth by a mother and a non-biological father may also have a parental bond and relationship with her biological father,” said Ed Howard, senior counsel for the Children’s Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law, in a press release. “The child knows all three of these people as parents, and the law should not arbitrarily extinguish those relationships when doing so would hurt the child.”

The bill was approved by California Senate in July, but will still be returned to the Senate for a final vote before Gov. Jerry Brown can sign it into law.

But I still want to know how the health insurance works.

Read more from Joslyn at Babble Pets and at her blog, stark. raving. mad. mommy. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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