British Columbia baby with three legal parents breaking new ‘family’ ground

Matthew Coutts
Daily Brew
Corbis

A three-month-old baby with an imposing name is making history in British Columbia by becoming the province's first child with three official parents.

But Della Wolf Kangro Wiley Richards is by no means alone in the world of three-pronged family trees. In fact, it may be just a matter of time before children with three biological parents walk among us.

According to the National Post, Della's parents successfully negotiated the bureaucracy of British Columbia birth certificates last week and registered her two lesbian mothers and their male donor as official parents.

The expanded list of legal guardianship was allowed under the province's Family Law Act, passed last year. Although birth certificate forms still appeared to have trouble accounting for a child having three parents who wanted to be active participants in her life.

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In some ways, Della is lucky. She has two mothers who decided to have a child, and a father who also wants to play an active role in her life. In other ways she has a tough road ahead, being tasked with carving a path for future three-or-more-parent children to follow.

Andrea Mrozek, executive director of the Institution of Marriage and Family Canada, says there is very little study done into how having three parents would affect the growth of a child.

"It is the best way, and possibly - one might argue - the only way we have of caring for kids," Mrozek told Yahoo Canada News. "This is very controversial to suggest that we are entering right now into an era where we are trying new things, and we don't know what the effects might be. And we probably won't know what the effects will be for generations."

While this is the first case of a tri-parental family in British Columbia, it is not a Canadian first.

The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled in 2007 that a young child could have three legal parents -- the birth father and mother, and the mother's lesbian partner.

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"Advances in our appreciation of the value of other types of relationships and in the science of reproductive technology have created gaps in the (Children's Law Reform Act's) legislative scheme," Justice Marc Rosenberg wrote at the time. "Because of these changes, the parents of a child can be two women or two men."

In the United States, a couple of districts have their own laws allowing three or more legal parents. Last year, a Florida judge approved three legal parents to resolve a custody dispute between a lesbian couple and their sperm donor.

California lawmakers passed their own bill recognizing several legal guardians after a 2011 incident in which a child was placed in foster care, rather than in the custody of her biological father, after her two mothers were jailed and hospitalized.

The issue of multiple legal parents is actually playing out in its most-extreme form in Britain, where they are considering whether to allow fertility treatment that combine the DNA of three biological parents. The reasoning is that the procedure would help avoid inherited diseased in the child, a debatably slippery slope. Medical and ethical issues aside, the legal result would be the same: Babies born to three parents.

While the frequency of three-parent families isn't exactly exploding, every new instance is breaking new ground. But that ground comes with new questions and concerns.

Mrozek said that the concept of family is a deeply personal issue for every person, but the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada tries to look at it as a societal institution.

"We don't have a lot of research to show what the effects of sanctioning three legal parents will be," Mrozek said. "I try not to let my personal opinion get into it. I think what we face here is the question ... of whether family is infinitely malleable. If we change how it looks in more and more degrees, will it maintain the role that it played in society up to this point?"

She added, “What does it mean when we have three people in the position of parents?”

Della Wolf Kangro Wiley Richards may be among the first to be raised by three legal parents, but children have always had more than two mentors and guardians in their lives. Will making a third branch onto the family tree change things considerably?

We will have to wait and see. But the wait may not be very long.

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