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A million-and-one ways to a family

Families come in all shapes and sizes. Single parent households; Blended family households; Unmarried parent households; Multigeneration household; Adoptive parent households.

There seems to be a million- and-one ways to make a family now-a-days. The options are endless, and more common for LGBTQIA+ parents.

While in 2015, the United State Supreme Court validated same-sex marriage, Georgia has been slow to update its laws in this particular area. To this day, the Georgia Constitution technically recognizes marriage as only between a “man” and a “woman.” This is mitigated by the ruling in Obergefell and even by statute which has made gendered pronouns in the law meaningless.

Except … maybe… when it comes to legitimacy – the very concept that legally insures two parents are Parents. Capital “P” Parents with all the rights and obligations under the law.

These legitimacy laws, particularly the presumption that the “husband” is the “father” of all children born during a marriage, operate on a very heteronormative understanding of how parents can “beget” children. I like to call it the “good ol’ fashion way.”

There are a lot of holes and questions left in the law when the parents aren’t biologically capable -regardless of the reason– of creating a child genetically related to both parents the “good ol’ fashion way.”

So: What does that mean if there is no husband? What does that mean if there are two husbands? What does it mean if the child was born using reproductive technologies?

The frustrating lawyer answer: it depends. No fear, I have some recommendations for parents in the alphabet mafia looking to ensure both parents are Capital “P” Parents.

First, get married. Unfortunately, as currently written, only unmarried biological fathers have the right and privilege to solidify their legal status as a Capital “P” Parent. If you’re not going to be the biological father of the future child, but your intent is to be a Capital “P” Parent – there is a good chance your rights need to be explicitly sought and protected. Marriage is one way to add that security.

Second, have an honest and frank discussion with your partner and future co-Parent about what that means and how to protect each other’s rights. If you and your loved one are talking about how and when you are going to bring a child into your home to love and raise, you also need to talk about what that means if the romantic relationship doesn’t work. If you’re both going to be Parents while you are together, I expect you to be Parents to your child if you are single again.

Third, speak to a lawyer before any reproductive clinic or adoption agency or make any concrete plans to beget any children. If you’re doing reciprocal IVF, having a surrogate, or potentially adopting a child – know your legal rights as a couple and as individual Parents.

Fourth, if you don’t take my advice above, or you didn’t when you started your family but wish you had, know it isn’t too late. One solution is that Georgia has recently enacted what is considered the Equitable Caregiver Statute for this very circumstance. It grants people who have played the role of a parent, without the legal obligations and rights of that role, to petition Georgia Court to recognize their status in a child’s life. While it doesn’t make those people Capital “P” Parents, it can ensure custody, visitation and access to the child is secured.

If you’re building your family in one of the seemingly million-and-one possible ways, let a knowledgeable and experienced family law attorney at The Manely Firm, P.C. help you secure your role, rights, and obligations.