With “Psychological Parents,” Courts Find New Ways To Dismantle Families

With “Psychological Parents,” Courts Find New Ways To Dismantle Families
By ADF’s Alan Sears
P. Andrew Sandlin
Way out Washington way, they’ve decided it doesn’t take “a village” to raise a child, after all.It just takes three parents … and a state court willing to twist family law any way the prevailing winds allow.The legal pretzel in question is the case of Britain v. Carvin.

Deciding they wanted a baby, two lesbian lovers engaged a male friend to contribute what they could not to the process. He did so, making it clear that he wanted to be an active father to the child, not merely a sperm donor. They agreed, and he supplied funds to purchase a home for the three of them and to assist Ms. Britain, the biological mother. In time, a child, “L.B.,” was born.

While Ms. Britain remained on friendly terms with the father, hostility from Ms. Carvin, her lesbian partner, drove him to move out. Still, he continued to provide financial support for L.B.

Eventually, Ms. Britain dissolved her relationship with Ms. Carvin (who had never legally adopted L.B.), sought out the child’s father, and introduced him to L.B. The three grew close, and the biological parents made plans to marry.

While Ms. Carvin continued to enjoy access to L.B., both parents expressed concern over some of her choices and behavior. (Among other things, she apparently taught the child to play “spin the bottle” with her lesbian friends, and caused L.B. to miss meals and school.) Eventually, the couple cut off her access to the child. Not long afterward, the parents were wed, and L.B. was legally given her father’s name.

Meanwhile, Ms. Carvin filed suit, demanding visitation rights or partial legal custody of “L.B.”

It should have been an open-and-shut case. The U.S. Supreme Court, in Granville v. Troxel (2000), ruled that biological parents have a fundamental right to determine the upbringing of their child – including control over whom their child spends time with.

But Britain v. Carvin landed before the Washington Supreme Court, whose jurists decided the Granville decision didn’t apply to Ms. Carvin, because – although she has no biological or legal link to L.B. – they feel she may be psychologically as much a parent as the child’s mother and father.

With that decision, the Washington court leaps into a legal quagmire that will embroil legislatures for decades (and will likely make “family law” attorneys very, very wealthy). We all know the legal and emotional complications, the pain that may ensue when two biological parents divorce, then re-marry. Multiply those complications by a third. Throw in all the statutes related to inheritance rights, wrongful death suits, child support… and you see what I mean.

The courts could even saddle L.B. with three parents, each with an equal say in every decision of the child’s life. The result would be a very confused child caught in a three-way tug of war.

Similar cases are clogging the nation’s courtrooms; in 18 of 30 states, judges have recognized “psychological parents.” The U.S. Supreme Court, so far, is silent.

Advocates of same-sex “marriage,” though, are thrilled. They see in these tangled webs a way to trump traditional family structures and obtain sometimes elusive custody and visitation rights. Plus, these judicial indulgences offer backdoor recognition for same-sex unions, giving non-biological, unmarried “parents” the same rights as a child’s biological mom and dad – even without their consent.

In several recent rulings, judges have awarded parental authority to the “third parent”…but seldom, if ever, a corresponding financial responsibility. So, for instance, in Colorado, a “psychological” mother can urge her child into an expensive private school – knowing she herself won’t be paying the tuition.

This separation of rights from responsibilities is at the heart of the current deconstruction of marriage and family in America. Study after study shows that the best thing for children, by far, is: one committed mom, one committed dad, together in a loving, monogamous relationship. But too many men and women don’t care about what’s best for the child.

They want to enjoy domestic bliss and sexual promiscuity. They want the authority to guide young minds, without taking the moral or financial responsibility for the results of that guidance.

Is every natural parent a good parent? No. Is it possible that someone else in a child’s psychological orbit could be a better, truer influence than the child’s own biological mom and dad? Certainly.

But laws are based on the norm, not the exception. And the norm should be, as the Granville case indicated, that biological parents should almost always assume full rights and responsibility with regard to their offspring.

Because, when it comes to parenting, three’s a crowd.

Alan Sears, a former federal prosecutor who held various posts in the departments of Justice and Interior during the Reagan Administration, is president and CEO of the Alliance Defense Fund (www.telladf.org), a legal alliance defending our first liberty—religious freedom—through strategy, training, funding, and litigation. He is co-author with Craig Osten of the new book The ACLU vs. America: Exposing the Agenda to Redefine Moral Values.

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