And Then There Were Three... Or More...

Within two weeks of meeting each other in 2008, Melissa and Irene fell in love and began living together. They even became registered domestic partners. Sadly, the relationship was volatile with physical and verbal abuse, and was compounded by Melissa's mental illness and drug and alcohol abuse. They separated, and Melissa began a relationship with Jesus and became pregnant.

Jesus embraced his impending fatherhood. He brought Melissa into his family's home and provided the financial means for Melissa's prenatal needs. But their relationship was not meant to be, and before the baby was born, Melissa went back to Irene. Jesus did not know how to contact Melissa and was not present for his biological child's birth. Opportunity knocked, and he moved to Oklahoma for employment.

During this time, a short window in California law allowed same-sex couples to marry, and Melissa and Irene did so. They had no money and no means of support, and for a time they were living in a car. Melissa gave birth to a daughter, and Melissa's name was the only parental name listed on the birth certificate. (To protect the child's privacy, the court refers to the child as "MC.") Too bad the birth did not cement their love. Melissa moved out four weeks after MC's birth and moved in with Jose. Irene petitioned the court for custody and visitation rights with MC, but Melissa opposed the request. The court awarded Irene monitored visitation. Also during this time, Melissa got in touch with Jesus via the internet and asked him to send money for MC's support. Although under no legal order to do, Jesus began sending Melissa $100 money orders. Melissa also began taking MC to visit Jesus's extended family at Jesus's request.

Then, on September 21, 2009, according to police reports, Melissa and Jose saw Irene board a bus. Jose got on the same bus and befriended Irene. Later, while they sat in a park drinking beer, Irene got up to leave, and Jose stabbed her in the neck and back. Irene was taken to the hospital in critical condition, but managed to tell the police she saw Jose get into Melissa's car and get away. Police investigations revealed that Melissa and Jose planned to scare Irene to keep her away from Melissa's baby, but according to Jose, "things went bad." Melissa claimed "the bitch got what she deserved." She also admitted that she and Jose smoked methamphetamines in the car while MC was in the back seat, and often used drugs together in front of the baby. Jose was arrested for attempted murder, and Melissa was arrested as an accessory to attempted murder.

Now, with both legal parents unable to care for the child, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) had a big problem: Who should take care of MC? Melissa told DCFS about Jesus, and DCFS contacted him. In the interim, MC was placed in foster care, later placing her in temporary foster care with Jesus's family.

Jesus and Irene petitioned the court for custody of MC. Jesus felt he had the right to custody because he was the biological father. He also argued that he was there for Melissa in the beginning of her pregnancy, but she left him and prevented him from being a part of MC's life. He claimed that when he was allowed back in to MC's life, he provided for her financially and ensured she had a good environment through his family. He wanted to take her with him to live in Oklahoma where he had a stable lifestyle and a good job to raise her. He told the court that his finance (who was now pregnant with his child) would also be a good caregiver for he child.

Irene argued that by law, she was the second presumed parent with custody rights to the child. Melissa had presumed-parent rights because she had birthed MC. But because Melissa and Irene were married at the time of MC's birth and Irene accepted MC into her home and openly held out MC as her own, Irene was the other presumed parent. By California law, there could only be two presumed parents with all the rights and responsibilities afforded with the title.

The court found that MC had three presumed parents and Irene appealed. In 2011, the appellate court agreed with Irene in that there could only be two presumed parents, but returned the case to the trial court to determine who the second presumed parent would be.

In 2012, the United States Supreme Court determined the legality of same-sex couples, thus opening the door for more presumed parent issues. To correct that issue, California State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) introduced legislation to provide for more than two presumed parents but Governor Brown vetoed the bill. Senator Leno re-introduced the bill in 2013, and on October 4, 2013, Governor Brown signed the bill into law, effective January 1, 2014. The law allows the courts to recognize three or more legal parents so that custody and financial responsibility can be shared by all those involved in raising a child. According to Leno, "Courts need the ability to recognize these changes so children are supported by the adults that play a central role in loving and caring for them. It is critical that judges have the ability to recognize the roles of all parents so that no child has to endure separation from one of the adults he or she has always known as a parent."

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