I know there’s been a bit of a gap here, but that’s the nature the the semester, I guess. Busy week it has been. I’ll circle back to comments but need to get the main threads restarted, too. So here goes. I’ve been meaning to post about this enterprise for a while. It’s gotten some press coverage, too. (Besides my link you can look at their website under press for more stories.)
The idea here is to facilitate the creation of families consisting of two genetic paernts and a child where the genetic parents are not a couple. I’ve written about this sort of set up a couple of times in the past–it’s not really a brand new idea. And I think what I have to say now is largely consistent with what I’ve said in the past.
On the one hand, for those most concerned about legal parenthood being defined along genetic lines, this seems unproblematic. A core part of the idea is that the parties to these agreements will both be genetic parents and legal parents and social parents. Thus the concerns raised about children having access to information about genetic lineage and to extended genetic families would seem to be addressed.
But the one hand strongly suggests that there is another hand and of course, there is another hand here. The parents won’t live in a single household, they won’t be a couple. (They could, of course, each be part of a couple, which would inevitably bring other people into the picture.)
Not being a couple has both a legal and a social dimension. Some (but not all) couples are in some form of legally recognized relationship. Most obvious is marriage. Those relationships may go a long way to defining the relative rights of the parties. In the absence of those legal relationships, two people planning to have a child together might need to make some subsidiary agreements.
More important might be the social dimensions of coupledom and non-coupledom. The people who join to raise children without being a couple must forge some new style of social relationship. They are parents but not partners–and they’re not ex-partners either. (There are certainly plenty of people in the parent/ex-partner category, but that’s a different thing entirely.) They must find a way to share the responsibilities of parenting. This really does create a very substantial relationship between them–and one which does have legal dimensions.
On one level I feel like the relationships created here lack a foundation–the foundation of the original couple relationship. But even if this is true, is it a bad thing? Is the foundation–the couple relationship–alway a plus? Surely not. Sometimes it is the source of instability and tension. Surely the worst of the divorce cases stand as witness to that.
It’s hard for me not to come to a possibly unsatisfying conclusion: This is something that can and will work for some people but cannot and won’t work for others. In that way I think it is like so much else I write about here–surrogacy, say. Or three-parent families. I don’t feel like there’s a generalization–either this is almost always good or this is almost always bad–to be offered. And that means it all comes down to the care and thoughtfulness with which people start down this path. My assessment of an organization like Families By Design therefore turns on the extent to which it facilitates the kind of thoughtful care that is essential. With that in mind, I think it looks pretty good, but the devil may well be in the details.
One thing that encourages me–there’s a note about the importance of the endlessly varied state laws that would bear on any agreement like this. This is a critical (and correct) observation. And it is often what worries me–especially in the age of Craig’s List and DIY. Only skilled lawyers can offer advice with confidence and it will never be one-size-fits-all. But with those caveats in mind, this looks like a potentially promising addition to the range of options for people considering parenthood.