Can a Child Have Three Parents? Tri-Parenting and Custody Conflicts

Custody cases with two biological parents can be complex enough, but issues of custody for three parents are becoming more commonplace. The issue of custody among three people can arise often in cases when a gay couple involves a third party in the conception of the child or a married woman conceived a child with a man who is not her husband. Whatever the circumstances, the legal status of tri-parenting varies from state to state and can give rise to some fascinating and difficult legal cases.

Recently in New Jersey, there was a custody conflict involving a gay couple and a woman who conceived a child with one of the men with the verbal agreement that all three parties would have equal involvement in the child’s life. One of the men named the child and the other donated the sperm. The arrangement worked out well for years until the biological mother wanted to marry a man and move to California. The two men sued for custody, but it turned out that only the man who donated his sperm was considered to be a parent, while the other male partner who named the child was not given legal status as a parent. Other significant factors in this case was that the man who named the child made no attempt to adopt the child (which weakened his custody case) and the agreement was verbal, not written.

In 2013, California passed a law that a child can have three parents. Louisiana, Oregon, Alaska and Massachusetts have laws that allow third parent adoption. In some areas of the country, those who donate eggs or semen can be given some parental rights. The law varies so widely from state to state that conflicts regarding tri-parenting can be complicated, especially if the status is left unofficial and if there is movement from one state to another. Those who consider tri-parenting should find out what the law is in their states, draw up a written agreement with a lawyer experienced in the issue of custody and be aware that their status may change if one or all of the parents decide to move to another state