B.C. judge rules 3rd parent in polygamous relationship can be registered with Vital Statistics | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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B.C. judge rules 3rd parent in polygamous relationship can be registered with Vital Statistics

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April 27, 2021 - 7:00 AM

For the first time in B.C., two polyamorous parents have succeeded in having a third person legally registered with Vital Statistics as a parent of their child.

The three parents, anonymized to first names Eliza, Bill and Olivia, together applied to the court for the unusual designation. The child, Clarke, was born to Eliza but the three have been living as a monogamous “triad” since 2017, roughly a year before Clarke was born. Since that time, they have all parented the child and Olivia even took four weeks off work to care for the infant.

"It is not disputed that Clarke is being raised by three loving, caring, and extremely capable individuals,” wrote B.C. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Wilkinson in an April 23 decision. "Unlike many family law matters which come before the court, this is not an instance of family members taking adverse positions. The petitioners are in agreement that Olivia should be recognized as Clarke’s legal parent, alongside Eliza and Bill. It is their family makeup which brings them before the court.”

The decision can have ramifications for the triad in future, including child support and parental benefits and leaves, but also in ways many wouldn’t suspect in the family dynamic.

"Neither Olivia nor Clarke would be placed in a position of having to differentiate their relationship from Clarke’s relationship with Eliza and Bill. A legal distinction between the relationships may create an inequity between their roles in Clarke’s life which would negatively impact Clarke,” she wrote.

The move was opposed by B.C.’s Attorney General, which argued Olivia is a ‘guardian’ which carries similar rights as a parent, but Wilkinson said that’s not true at all.

"I do not accept this position,” she wrote. "There are clear and tangible differences between being a parent and being a guardian, evidenced, in part, by the legislature’s decision to distinguish between these two roles with separate designations. A parentage declaration is also a symbolic recognition of a parent-child relationship. This difference should not be minimized.”

She said other legislation could particularly preclude Olivia from rights and benefits if she were merely a ‘guardian’.

"Recognition of Olivia as Clarke’s legal parent would also allow Olivia to access additional statutory and other benefits for Clarke which, in turn, would positively impact him. For example, Olivia testified that a declaration of legal parentage would mean that Clarke could be added to her employer’s extended health plan. Under the Employment and Assistance Regulation... which provides financial assistance to qualified residents, in order for Clarke to qualify as a dependent child of Olivia, Olivia would have to have a guardianship or custody order. Some provincial legislation includes a person who stands in the place of a parent as a person who has rights and obligations with respect to a child. However Clarke’s biological parents remain his legal parents, and as such it is questionable whether Olivia would qualify as such a person. She is not standing in their place.”

In the only other similar case in Canada that didn’t involve surrogacy, the additional parent was added because legislators in Newfoundland never even contemplated adding a third parent in these circumstances and that absence of consideration allowed the judge to declare parentage to a second man in the relationship.

The Attorney General of B.C. said this province’s legislation contemplated all parenting categories and created an appropriate role for her as ‘guardian', arguing there’s no gap in legislation to wedge. But Wilkinson said B.C.’s attempt to modernize its language and regime in 2011 to recognize more than one parent was limited to a contemplation of surrogacy cases and specifically did not address this type of application — a child conceived naturally having three parents.

"Put bluntly, the legislature did not contemplate polyamorous families,” she wrote. "This oversight is perhaps a reflection of changing social conditions and attitudes... or perhaps is simply a misstep by the legislature.  Regardless, the (legislation) does not adequately provide for polyamorous families in the context of parentage.”

The Attorney General also tried to argue that allowing the third parent in this scenario would “open the floodgates for parentage declarations in the future.”

"I do not think this concern is warranted,” Wilkinson wrote. "As the petitioners point out, it is uncommon for an individual to come to court wanting a parentage declaration. In fact, in many family law cases that come before the court, parents are trying to skirt their responsibilities, instead of secure them.”

The three parents live openly as a polyamorous family to their families and friends. Wilkinson said those close to them have been supportive of their relationship and family structure. However, in certain employment circumstances, they still choose to be private about their polyamorous identities out of fear of reprisal and discrimination.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Marshall Jones or call 250-718-2724 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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