A case published this year from a family court in New Jersey reminds us why traditional family models are best. It serves as a stark reminder that when the wishes of adults are considered before the needs of children, chaos inevitably ensues.
From a case named D.G. v. K.S., 2016 WL 482622, the real-life drama transpired this way.
Back in 2006, three friends — “Charles” and “Tom,” two gay men who were married, and their single female friend, “Becky” (all names changed) — came up with an idea. They were all close friends and they all wanted a child. So why not have a child together, the three of them, and form a new family model they would call “tri-parenting?”
What seemed so rosy in the beginning, when their little girl “Taylor” was born in 2009, ended up in New Jersey family court four years later.
“The three adults in the New Jersey case may all be excellent parents individually, but they should not have tried to create a family together,” Amy Ridenour, chairman of the National Center for Public Policy Research, told LifeZette. “Surely they knew at the outset that their ‘family’ had unequal support for one of the three adults and was inherently unstable as a result. Possibly their enthusiasm for raising a child caused them to overlook this fact, but it could not be overlooked for 18 years.”
So how did all this work, logistically?
Using Becky's egg and Charles' sperm, the three friends became parents to a little girl using an artificial insemination method.
In the beginning, things worked seamlessly, according to The Washington Post; the three friends formed a little cocoon of love and cared for the new baby on the New Jersey shore. They all moved into Becky's home in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, for the infant's first summer, all of them working as a team to meet the baby's needs. Becky worked at her family's restaurant, Charles was running a business, and Tom was a New York City schoolteacher.
After that idyllic summer, reality set in, and parenting time between the three began to fluctuate. Becky owned a home in Costa Rica, reports the Post, and she would take the little girl there for varying amounts of time. The three parents had no written agreement at the time, and felt they were creating a brave new family model. They even began soliciting media attention, the Post noted, and ended up in a feature article in Marie Claire magazine. They were also on "The Nate Berkus Show," espousing the values of tri-parenting.
But when the girl was about four years old, things changed. Becky had fallen in love with someone who lived in California, and she wanted to relocate there with the child. Becky requested a "parenting meeting" with Tom and Charles. Several months later, the tri-parenting relationship deteriorated, reported the Post, and legal documents regarding parenting time and custody determination were filed by Tom and Charles.
The court found Tom could not be named a legal parent, as he was not a biological parent and there was no current legal model for three legal parents. But he was a "psychological parent" — important to the little girl's welfare. The family court found that Becky, though a loving parent, was not stable in her living situation or her future plans — and that Charles and Tom had the means and stability to raise the little girl effectively.
The court ruled that the three would share custody of the girl, saying they all loved and cared for her equally. Becky was not allowed to move to California with the child, and the child would reside with Charles and Tom during the week, with Becky having the lion's share of parenting time on school breaks, according to the Post.
This was doomed for failure from the start.
"The New Jersey court was wise not to attempt to establish a new 'tri-parent model,'" said Ridenour. "Such an institution is unnecessary and largely unworkable, and because it is unworkable, is not in the best interest of children. Parenting is and should be about the welfare of children."
A divorced father from Kansas told LifeZette, "It's hard enough to be divorced and answerable to one person — my ex-wife — when it comes to my daughter, but answerable to two other people? This tri-parenting should not be attempted again. Exactly where is the child in all this?"
Ridenour agreed. "The New Jersey case gives a perfect example of why 'tri-parenting' is a flawed model. In a traditional family home, with two married parents and children in the same residence, the needs of all family members can be met with parents and children having constant access to one another. This is of tremendous importance to the children, who deserve and need the psychological support of their parents — part of which is simply knowing that parents who love and care for them are physically present."
"In a traditional household, parents can meet their own needs for emotional support from another, physically present adult, while sharing the responsibilities of parenthood," Ridenour continued. "But in a three-person parental agreement, as in the New Jersey case, one is left out. Someone was going to suffer in this case. As adults do tend to pair up, and we live in a mobile society, this was entirely predictable. Tri-parent arrangements will overwhelmingly tend to have a third wheel."
The child, once a dream of three friends, became the object of tension and discord, and eventually part of a court case. Could Becky, Tom, and Charles really not see, back when a child was just a shared dream, where this was eventually headed if they made it a reality? Their dream was all about them — not the child they would bring into the world.
The traditional family, looking to the future and secure in its bond, works best for a reason.
As Ridenour concluded, "That which is not broken need not be fixed."
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