I know I haven’t written a great deal recently, but I have been thinking. One of the things I have been thinking about is the value of consistency and stability in a child’s life. I place a high value on these things. From what I know of child development, stability and consistency in the child’s primary relationships is important to the development of a healthy adult. Disruption–losing a parent, say, as the result of a nasty divorce–is associated with problems of many sorts. (Interestingly, as I recall, losing a parent because of death has fewer negative consequences. If you stop and think about this, you might see some reasons why this would be.)
I think it is the value I place on consistency and stability that leads me to my support for some variety of de facto parent test. There’s a lot on the blog about that, but basically that’s a test that says that if you’ve acted as a parent (a social/psychological parent) long enough, then the law will recognize you as a parent. It rests at least in part on the assumption that this will be best for children because it will preserve their existing parent/child relationships.
If you look at some of the cases I’ve recently discussed here, you can see how it works. In the Vermont/Virgina case, Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins both had the requisite parent/child relationship for all of the child’s life. Thus, it seems to me, it’s right that the law should recognize them both as parents. (This is at the time of the original litigation. As some of the discussion of the case makes clear, post-litigation there are other factors–including the vindication of the judicial system–that I think come into play.)
In the most recent case I wrote about–the one from Canada–you can see the same principle at work in a different way. The two women who are raising the child have the parent/child bonds. The man who provided the sperm does not. Thus, I don’t see much of a claim on his part to have access to the child–it would only disrupt that existing relationships formed by the women and the child. (I rather wonder what his position is vis-a-vis the status of the two women. Does he, for instance, acknowledge that they are both the child’s social/psychological parents?)
I won’t claim to be totally consistent (which of us are?), but I do think the majority of the views I’ve expressed here can be linked to my view of the importance of consistency and stability. And I think I could back up that view with various sorts of evidence from fields like psychology and family studies.
Now I’m well aware that not everyone shares my view. In particular, there’s a vocal group of people who assert the primacy of the genetic connection. (By this I mean people who assert that legal parentage should be determined by reference to genetic connection between adult and child.)
I’m not sure I’ve said this before (and if I have, I think it’s been a while) but it seems to me that those who assert the primacy of genetic connection must consider it to be more important than stability and consistency. Thus, it’s more important to relocate the child so that she or he is with the genetic parent than it is to preserve the existing relationship with the social/psychological parent. (I think this has to be, else you’d come down on the side of the social/psychological parent rather than the genetic parent.)
So maybe this is a different way of looking at the core disagreement I have with those who would use genetic relationship as the determinant of legal parenthood: We disagree about the importance of consistency/stability in the care-giving relationships known to a child.
It’s not that I think restating things this way will enable us to resolve our differences, but I think this does offer a slightly different view of where we disagree. And this point–the importance of stability/consistency–might be one that is easier to establish or refute based on actual social science literature.