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A decision from the Supreme Court of British Columbia has been making headlines after the court held that three members of a polyamorous relationship can be registered as a child’s official parents, giving hope to others people in similar relationships across Canada.
What is a polyamorous relationship?
A polyamorous relationship is one in which three people have romantic relationships with one another, with each relationship having equal importance. This type of relationship is known within their community as a “triad.” This is different than a polygamous relationship, in which one person has multiple spouses.
In this case, the three parties were referred to as Olivia, Eliza and Bill. They have been in a committed polyamorous relationship since 2017. In 2018 Eliza and Bill had a child together. They were the only legal parents named on the child’s birth registration.
However, the parties sought declaration that Olivia also be named a legal parent. They stated that at some point during the pregnancy, they determined that Olivia would take on the roll of a “full parent” in the child’s life. Since the birth of the child, Olivia has lived up to that role, playing a very active role in the child’s life. The family also live openly in their community and with their family and friends. The court stated it was “not disputed that (the child) is being raised by three loving, caring, and extremely capable individuals.”
What does the law say?
British Columbia’s Family Law Act states that there are only two ways in which a person can be named as a child’s parent. The first is through sexual intercourse, and the second is through assisted reproduction. However, the act also states that the courts can make a declaration of parentage if there is a “dispute or uncertainty” about who the child’s parents are.
Were polyamorous families intentionally left out of the Act?
The Attorney General of British Columbia argued that if the legislature had intended the parties of a polyamorous relationship could all be considered a child’s legal parents, then they would have had the Act reflect that. However, the court noted that there was nothing about polyamorous relationships in the Hansard notes from when the Act was making its way through the legislature. Because of this, the court was able to find that there was indeed a gap in the legislature. The court wrote, “I find that there is a gap in the (Family Law Act) with regard to children conceived through sexual intercourse who have more than two parents,” adding “The evidence indicates that the legislature did not foresee the possibility a child might be conceived through sexual intercourse and have more than two parents. Put bluntly, the legislature did not contemplate polyamorous families.”
The court ordered that Olivia be registered as a parent of the child, but stated that the law as it stands is not unconstitutional, meaning that other people in similar situations will have to go to court if they wanted to have a third person in a polyamorous relationship named as a child’s parent. The decision also has no impact in Ontario law, though we will be sure to update our readers if that changes.
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