In The Netherlands, a group of eight political parties (representing 75% of the 2012 parliament and still >60% of the 2017 parliament according to current polls) has pledged, following an earlier recommendation, that the government should legally recognise for a child to have more than two parents. Full proposal via rijksoverheid.nl (in Dutch), including a link to a 643-page PDF with background information.

Would this be a novelty? Is there anywhere in the world where a child can legally have more than two parents?

NB: as I understand it, the proposal is to make it possible to assign legal parent rights to up to four adults over one or more children. It does not change the legal status of cohabitating groups of people and is not a proposal for plural marriage. It is also distinct from the UK law which permits three-person babies; AFAIK the UK law does not imply legal parent status can be shared between more than two adults, but I could be wrong.

  • You may want to try law.se, but I'd expect you can put other relatives on a US custody agreement. Grandparents and step parents are pretty common, I'd find it pretty odd if it was all extra-legal.
    – user9389
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 18:01
  • @notstoreboughtdirt Would they have equal rights w.r.t. the child? Not sure about the legal definitions of guardian, custodian, parent, but it would matter for things like inheritance.
    – gerrit
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 18:03
  • I don't know anything about inheritance with custody agreements. With a custody agreement the rights to the child are spelled out case by case through negotiation or court order. Equality is often not a goal but I doubt it is disallowed, I know very little about it.
    – user9389
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 18:22

2 Answers 2



In British Columbia, Canada, it is possible for a baby to have three parents on the birth certificate. For example, National Post:

A Vancouver baby has three parents named on her birth certificate, the first under new B.C. legislation that allows up to four legal parents.

Della Wolf Kangro Wiley Richards, three months old, became the legal daughter of a lesbian couple and their male friend after finalizing the registration process last week. They are among the first Canadians to achieve this without using litigation, under British Columbia’s new Family Law Act passed last year.

Family Law Act


The Declining Importance of Paternity

Some jurisdictions, such as Colorado, have de-emphasized the role of genetic relationships in matters of parental responsibilities (a detailed analysis of those laws can be found in a recent post in the law forum).

People legally recognized as parents, for example, in a birth certificate, do have heightened responsibilities and are parents, but far more people can have standing to seek a role in parental decision-making for a child and parenting time.

Similarly, in the area of inheritance, in the U.S. and most countries with Anglo-American common law legal systems, one is not required to leave anything to one's adult children in one's Will (unlike, for example, Mexico, where a child can only be disinherited for disrespecting a parent, or at least, could only be until recently).

Reproductive Technology

Many jurisdictions also delineate between different aspects of the parenting role in statutes addressing technological assisted reproduction treatments, distinguishing, for example, between male and female genetic contributions (egg donors and sperm donors), the person who experiences the pregnancy, and people who are treated as parents of a child for legal purposes once a child is born.

As much as possible, these details are governed by an agreement of the parties, but there have to be default rules that apply in the absence of an agreement. A central concept in this area is the "intended parent".

New frontiers also include individuals who have genetic contributions from three genetic parents.

Colorado's main statutory authority for these cases is a section of the Uniform Parentage Act pertinent to Assisted Reproduction.

Second Parent Adoption

Another developing concept is "second parent adoption" (also called co-parent adoption) in which a child with two biological parents is adopted by the partner (often a same sex partner or stepparent) of a child without terminating the parental rights of either of the biological parents. As explained in the link, fourteen states have recognized second parent adoptions by statute or in case law (in Colorado, the pertinent statute are Colorado Revised Statutes, Sections 19-5-203(1), 19-5-208(5), 19-5-210(1.5), 19-5-211(1.5)). Those fourteen states are:

  1. California
  2. Colorado
  3. Connecticut
  4. District of Columbia
  5. Idaho
  6. Illinois
  7. Indiana
  8. Maine
  9. Massachusetts
  10. New Jersey
  11. New York
  12. Oklahoma
  13. Pennsylvania
  14. Vermont

There are other countries that recognize second parent adoptions, but I do not know which ones on a comprehensive basis. Slovenia is apparently one such country.

A law review article from 2009 reviews the state of second parent adoptions internationally, but so much has happened on this front over the last eight years that realistically, this is an outdated source.

A more up to date source, but one limited to adoption by same sex couples can be found at Wikipedia.

Another fourteen states have authorized one or more second parent adoptions despite a lack of clear legal authority binding statewide that authorizes this to be done (and in the case of Florida, in the face of a statute prohibiting the practice):

  1. Alaska
  2. Delaware
  3. Florida
  4. Georgia
  5. Hawaii
  6. Iowa
  7. Louisiana
  8. Maryland
  9. Minnesota
  10. Oregon
  11. Rhode Island
  12. Texas
  13. Washington
  14. West Virginia

Meanwhile, ten U.S. states expressly prohibit second parent adoptions:

  1. The Alabama Court of Appeals ruled that (unmarried) same-sex couples cannot use the stepparent adoption procedures. However, married same-sex spouses must be allowed to do so.
  2. Arizona gives a preference to married couples over a single adult in adoption placement.
  3. The Kansas Court of Appeals recently ruled that Kansas does not permit second parent or co-parent adoption by unmarried couples.
  4. A Kentucky court has said that Kentucky does not permit unmarried couples to use the stepparent adoption procedures.
  5. Mississippi has a statute that prohibits “[a]doption by couples of the same gender,” but under the Supreme Court ruling, Mississippi must allow same-sex spouses to adopt on equal terms with other married couples.
  6. Nebraska does not permit second parent or co-parent adoption by unmarried couples.
  7. North Carolina does not allow second parent or co-parent adoption by unmarried couples.
  8. Ohio does not permit second parent or co-parent adoption by unmarried couples.
  9. Utah prohibits anyone cohabiting in a non-marital sexual relationship from adopting. Utah also gives a preference to married couples over any single adult in adoptions or foster care placement.
  10. Wisconsin does not permit second parent or co-parent adoption by unmarried couples.
  • 1
    Actually, about “these details are governed by an agreement of the parties,” at least in the US several states have decided that they cannot (or will not) enforce e.g. contracts between would-be parents and surrogate mothers.
    – KRyan
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 21:15
  • @KRyan I don't disagree. The agreement is only relevant in the "Many jurisdictions" that have a legal framework in place for assisted reproduction, but not all of them do, and in the jurisdictions that do not have a legal framework there is a big question mark with uncertain and sporadic case law or no legal guidance at all.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 22:21
  • There is a lot of context and information here but I'm not quite sure what the conclusion is. Are the rights of the co-parent identical to the rights of the biological or original adoptive parents?
    – gerrit
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 0:35
  • 1
    That would go beyond the scope of your question: "Would this be a novelty? Is there anywhere in the world where a child can legally have more than two parents?" The conclusion is that this would not be a novelty and that there are places in the world where a child can legally have more than two parents. What it means, legally and on the ground on a day to day basis, to have more than two parents is quite another question that calls for completely different kinds of sources (e.g. ethnographies and detailed analysis of individual statutes) to answer.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 1:41

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