Tri-Parenting Agreements

The structure of the traditional American family has changed drastically during the past few decades.  While it used to be taboo to have children out of wedlock, it is now a family structure that many people willingly choose.  Advances in healthcare and reproductive technology have also helped to change how we define “family.”  Tri-parenting is another example of the new way that we approach family.

In a case styled D.G. and S.H. v. K.S., the Superior Court of New Jersey was called upon to determine issues of child custody, child support, and relocation with the child in the context of a tri-parenting agreement.  In that case, D.G., his husband S.H., and their female friend K.S., all agreed to conceive a child and jointly raise that child together.  The child was conceived using K.S.’s egg, D.G.’s sperm, and the child was given S.H.’s last name, although S.H. was not biologically related to the child.  All three parents prepared during the pregnancy by attending parenting classes and outfitting their home with toys, furniture, and other baby care necessities.  All three had the intention that the child would reside will all three parents.  Immediately following the child’s birth, all three lived together and parented together.  A few weeks later, D.G. and S.H. moved to another home nearby, but all three continued to parent the child jointly for several years.  However, K.S. then decided to marry a man in California and announced her intention to relocate there with the child.  D.G. and S.H. then filed a complaint requesting custody, parenting time, and a determination that S.H. was the child’s psychological and legal parent.

The appellate court agreed that S.H. was a psychological parent to the child, examining such factors as the parties’ intention to raise the child together, the parent-like relationship between S.H. and the child, the significant parenting time S.H. had enjoyed, and he had financially contributed to raising the child.  The court then stated that as S.H. had proven he was a psychological parent to the child, the custody and visitation determination would be made according to what is in the child’s best interest, just as if he were a biological parent.  The court ultimately determined that it was in the child’s best interest that the child would live primarily with D.G. and S.H. during the school year and K.S. would have the child during holidays and the summer.

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