When "triparenting" goes bad

Let’s take a break from the election news for a moment and visit a rather unusual family court case which played out in New Jersey last year. Eugene Volokh of The Volokh Conspiracy has a lengthy study at the WaPo of a case of triparenting gone bad in the Garden state which raises quite a few questions. If you’re like me, the first one to come to mind is, what the heck is triparenting? As the name would imply, it’s a case of three people acting as parents to a child and it’s now made its way into the legal system.

Let’s start with the thumbnail description of the principals and how it was resolved.

This case involves issues of custody, removal, and support surrounding an unusual agreement entered into between three friends to conceive and jointly raise a child in a tri-parenting arrangement. [Olivia] is a female minor child born in 2009. Plaintiff, [Doug], is the biological father of [Olivia], and [Kristine] is the child’s biological mother. Plaintiff, [Shawn], is [Doug]’s same-sex spouse, who has bonded with and has become a psychological parent of [Olivia]. . . . [T]he court awards joint legal and joint residential custody of [Olivia] to all three parties and denies the application of [Kristine] to remove and relocate the child to a different state.

So this was a situation where same-sex spouses Doug and Shawn were hanging out with their female friend Kristine and cooked up the idea of having a child together which they would all participate in raising. Kristine was obviously to be the mother and Doug was the, er… “donor” for the procedure which was accomplished at home via a turkey baster. The subsequently produced child, Olivia, was given Shawn’s last name. And for a while it seemed to work out, with the men each holding good jobs in Jersey and the mother taking Olivia back and forth between there and Costa Rica. They gained some notoriety and even landed television appearances and book deals to discuss their unique arrangement.

Then, things took a turn.

The turning point in the relationship and the beginning of the turmoil and acrimony stemmed from [Kristine]’s desire to relocate with the child to California. In March of 2013, when [Kristine] and the child returned from a trip to Costa Rica, [Doug and Shawn] learned that [Kristine] had fallen in love with her neighbor in Costa Rica, [Alan], who primarily resided in California. [Alan] had shared custody of his children with his ex-wife in California, which prevented him from relocating to New Jersey.

So now we’ve added a fourth person into the mix, resulting in a desire on the part of Kristine to flee the scene and go set up a new life with Alan out on the left coast. That’s when the courts had to finally step in and determine that the best interests of the child would be served by keeping her in Jersey with three parents, two of whom had good jobs, rather than sending her to California with a potentially unemployed mom and a guy who had no history with her.

Can we actually redefine the legal definition of “parenting” any way we wish? Apparently so, at least in New Jersey. And while this is another area where I run hard aground against traditional conservative orthodoxy, I’m not throwing the baby entirely out with the bathwater here. While I still believe that an ideal situation for a child generally consists of growing up in a stable home with a mother and father serving as role models for their respective genders, I still feel that any safe, secure, home free of dangers to the youngsters is better than being a ward of the state. Single parents can provide a good home, even if the challenges are greater (think of the many widows and widowers out there) and gay couples can do so as well.

Three parents just strikes me as confusing for the kid and further complicates the already treacherous landscape of trying to grow up and adapt to the adult world. Intentionally entering into such a scheme doesn’t seem to do the child any favors when other, more conventional and stable options are available. (And the inherent instability baked into such a relationship seems to have been on full display in this case.) But once the child has arrived in the world there’s not much left in the way of options. She has to live someplace and it’s preferable that it be in a good home with the type of income required to provide for her basic, physical needs and prepare for her education and future.

This looks like a rough road ahead for Olivia, but at least she’s not out on the streets. Still, there may be a lesson here for others who view parenthood as some sort of modern experiment in social science. Sometime the boring old traditional ways work out best for a reason.


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Jazz Shaw 5:31 PM on February 04, 2023