ST. JOHN'S, N.L. -- In what is believed to be a legal first in Canada, a court in Newfoundland and Labrador has recognized three unmarried adults as the legal parents of a child born within their "polyamorous" family.
Polyamorous relationships are legal in Canada, unlike bigamy and polygamy, which involve people in two or more marriages.
In this case, the St. John's family includes two men in a relationship with the mother of a child born in 2017.
"Society is continuously changing and family structures are changing along with it," says the decision, by Justice Robert Fowler of the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court's family division.
"This must be recognized as a reality and not as a detriment to the best interests of the child."
The April 4 decision says the unconventional family has been together for three years, but the biological father of the child is unknown. The family members are not identified in the decision, which was released Thursday by the court.
It's not the first time a Canadian court has recognized that a family can have three legally recognized parents. In 2007, for example, the Ontario Court of Appeal recognized both women in a lesbian couple as the mothers of a child whose biological father was already deemed a legal parent. But the three adults in that case were not in a relationship.
The three people in the Newfoundland case turned to the courts after the province said only two parents could be listed on the child's birth certificate.
Lawyers for the province's attorney general argued that the provincial Children's Law Act does not allow for more than two people to be named as the legal parents of a child.
In his decision, Fowler acknowledged that was the case, but he stressed that the court's opinion hinged on what was in the best interests of the child.
"It has been well-established that in dealing with the matters of children, the best interests of a child or children shall always be the determining factors for the courts," the decision says.
Fowler said the child was born into a stable, loving family that is providing a safe and nurturing environment.
When the province's Children's Law Act was introduced about 30 years ago, he said, it did not contemplate the "now complex family relationships that are common and accepted in our society."
The judge said it was clear the legislation was aimed at bringing about equal status for all children, but the law included an unintentional gap that acts against the best interests of children born into polyamorous relationships.
"I have no reason to believe that this relationship detracts from the best interests of the child," Fowler's decision says.
"On the contrary, to deny the recognition of fatherhood (parentage) by the applicants would deprive the child of having a legal paternal heritage with all the rights and privileges associated with that designation."
-- By Michael MacDonald in Halifax