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The idea of the “traditional” family unit in the United States, with two opposite-sex parents married to each other, changed fundamentally with the legalization of gay marriage in 2015. In recent years, the definition of what constitutes a family under the eyes of the law has changed again with the recognition of tri-parenting as a result of adoption (Washington state, Rhode Island, and Vermont) and assisted reproduction (California and Maine).
At first mention, the idea of a three-parent household brings to mind polyamory. While some three-parent households are polyamorous, others exist between a same-sex or opposite-sex couple and a third party with no romantic or sexual involvement with the couple. In many cases, same-sex couples enter into three-party families with their egg- or sperm donors, when all parties want a relationship with the child. In other situations, asexual persons partner with married or committed couples to raise children together. Regardless of the specific circumstances, all three parties are listed on birth certificates as the child (or children’s) legal parents.
From a purely practical standpoint, a three-parent family gives each parent an opportunity to be meaningfully involved in the child’s life, while at the same time giving the other co-parents much-needed breaks from parental responsibilities. Raising a child is amazing, but it’s a lot of work. A third parent can ease that burden in a significant way.
In the case of the premature death of one or more of the child’s parents, having a third parent who is already considered a legal parent can also ensure continuity for the child and the surviving parent(s) during a traumatic time, without the worry that a relative of the deceased will seek and obtain custody, leaving the third parent out of the picture.
Three-parent families are still relatively uncommon, but they are growing in number as awareness of the option grows. At The Surrogacy Law Center, we help all types of families with the legal aspects of assisted reproduction. Contact us to learn more!