Sunday, November 18th, 2018

I’m Gay, She’s Straight, And We Are Co-Parenting In A Modern World: How To Prepare Legally

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I’m Gay, She’s Straight, And We  Are Co-Parenting In A Modern World:  How To Prepare Legally

After my son, Nate, was born, his mom Heidi and I went on The Today Show (NBC) to chat about our journey towards becoming co-parents. I was gay, she was straight, we’d known each other for over 20 years, and we knew we were meant to be parents. We talked about how we came to the decision to have a child together as unmarried friends, what were some of the issues we were facing, what did the future look like for us as a modern family, and how did we handle day to day life.  Our intention for going public in such a big way with the story of how we created our family by choice was to shed some positive light on the co-parenting process, to dispel some ugly stereotypes about gay men and single women and their choices to become parents, and to make the case to the millions watching that Heidi and I were parents to Nate – plain and simple – there to support, love, protect, guide, comfort, and educate our child.  The co-parenting partnership that Heidi and I had was solid, built on a foundation of trust and communication, and we were on the parenting journey as a team – stronger than many marriages, right? The public response (as revealed through an online NBC poll) was shocking to us – not that Heidi and I were naïve to the fact that our modern family appeared different than a societal “norm”, but that so much of society really hated what we had done, stood in judgment of our modern family, and questioned our motives to make our family by design.  Was our new modern family all that different? Surely my job was to be the best Nate’s dad I could be, and not to persuade the world (I’m a skilled lawyer, and trained to do this after all) that Heidi and I were simply “Mommy” and “Daddy”, no different than mommies and daddies everywhere who happen to be married to each other, or who happen to have become parents as a result of a romantic connection, intentional or accidental.

I’m Gay, She’s Straight, And We  Are Co-Parenting In A Modern World:  How To Prepare Legally

David, Nate, and Heidi: I’m Gay, She’s Straight, And We  Are Co-Parenting In A Modern World:  How To Prepare Legally

I quickly came to the realization that notwithstanding the strides we’ve made as a society regarding gay rights and women’s issues, the idea that a gay man and his straight female friend would agree to co-parent was making many uncomfortable.  But, I also came to realize that my job was not to change the minds of those whose ideas of parenting were well-settled and based in a societal norm.  As compelling and persuasive as I could be, I wasn’t going to win any debates with those who felt that we were fundamentally wrong in creating our family through co-parenting, even though the trained lawyer in me was itching to argue my position resolutely and passionately.  Rather, my job was to be the best co-parent that I could be, without the benefit of guides, expert studies, or statistics.  We were setting out to co-parent in a type of fog – trailblazers of sorts, moving forward through the haze relying solely on instinct, and full of dedication and love.  Any co-parenting books and studies were heavily based on a prior marriage or other romantic relationship gone sour – in other words, “Co-Parenting with a Toxic Ex” and “I Hate My Ex – How to Communicate Post Divorce”.  Our co-parenting story was obviously different in that there was no major break up event which caused hurt, resentment, or anger.  We were not starting to co-parent, battle scarred and weary.  Rather, we were starting from a different point, and what my co-parent counterpart and I had was history as loving friends, respect for each other, and a mutual desire to be parents.  And most importantly, we were prepared.

While one can never be fully prepared for the varied responses and opinions from others regarding co-parenting (and everyone’s got one – trust me – from your Aunt Tilly to your workout buddy to your co-worker), you can and must be prepared legally.  As a practicing attorney, I have drafted numerous co-parenting agreements, and have represented all types of co-parents, both gay and straight.  While anyone considering this type of arrangement should seek competent legal counsel in the jurisdiction in which they reside (each state has its own governing body of law), the following are, in my experience, the top 10 most important legal issues to consider with regard to co-parenting.  This list is in no way meant to be exhaustive, but should be looked at as more of a starting point for discussion between potential co-parents.

  1. Physical Custody: Where is your child living? Is it equal time between the two homes, or is one parent the primary care giver?  What do you do during the summer months when there is no school? What type of communication will the co-parents have with each other, and how often?
  2. Major Decision Making: How are major medical decisions made vs emergency medical decisions when the child is in one co-parent’s physical custody?
  3. Education: Private vs public school?  Are you saving for college?  What about extracurricular activities?
  4. Child support: Are all expenses borne equally by each parent? Is there a monthly child support payment? If so, what is it based on?
  5. Donor vs Co-Parent: Is your fellow co-parent actively involved in the raising of the child as an equal, or is the co-parent merely a donor and a “father figure”?
  6. Baby’s Name: Whose name will the baby have?  Will it be hyphenated? Will it be only one or the other, or a combination of the two? What name will be on the birth certificate?
  7. Future Romantic Relationships: Would a future spouse or serious significant other be involved in child rearing, discipline, etc?
  8. Dispute Resolution: What choice of law would apply in the event the parties went to litigation regarding the agreement?  Will you agree to mediation or arbitration?
  9. Relocation: If one parent relocates for work, what does that mean for custody of the child?
  10. Guardianship Contingency Plans: Should something happen to either one of the co-parents, or both, who will be responsible for the minor child? Do you have a will in place? Do you have life insurance?

There are a whole host of serious issues which need to be contemplated with regard to co-parenting – some legal, some social, some financial, some religious, some foreseeable, others not so much.  Let a skilled attorney help you in the beginning to set you on the correct path towards what should be in the best interests of your future child.  While other professionals such as social workers, therapists, clergy, and financial advisors will most definitely useful in your preparations, an attorney can help you flesh out some of the most important legal issues to start with, and help to facilitate the dialogue between the two potential co-parents. We are living in exciting and rapidly changing times, and should you make the important and life changing decision to co-parent, do it smartly, with eyes wide open, and with the best professional advice possible.  Your future child is depending on you.

David S. Arrick Esq. is a practicing NYC attorney, public speaker, and passionate advocate for co-parents (current and prospective).  He can be reached at coparentlaw@gmail.com, and at coparentlaw.com

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