Families by Design (And Without Couples)

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.


8 responses to “Families by Design (And Without Couples)

  1. whats the innovation here? there are unwed parents everywhere. is it the fact that they are using art?

  2. Intentional unmarried conception should be a crime, whether it is done using ART and donor gametes or through sexual intercourse. This couple, by publicizing their arrangement, would be one of the rare prosecutable couples, since most unmarried couples would claim a pregnancy was unintentional even if it wasn’t. Both of these parents should go to jail for a while, though they should be on the birth certificate of course, and the child should be raised by foster parents or nuns or something.

    Please try to remember that no one thinks genetic parents should always be legal parents. This is a perfect example of a case when genetic parents have proven themselves unfit to be legal parents of any child, since they seem to think children are objects to be created on demand.

    • Rather a draconian view. It’s curious to me that even in situations where it worked smoothly–the adults all acted as expected and what not–you’d still take the child away from genetic parents and send those people off to jail. It’s the deterrent effect you want, I guess–a harsh penalty to stop people from doing this?

  3. Cuz foster care is so wonderful for kids…. and parents being in jail is just so much better for kids than them being functional members of society while single.
    Stop trying to use kids as a punishment for your outdated ideas of morality. Kids are real people!
    As of now reproduction can not be regulated, John. You keep forgetting you’re in the US.

    • So do we let people rob banks and kill people if they are parents? The US can prohibit sperm banks and intentional unmarried conception, why do you think it can’t? Foster care is not that bad, it preserves a child’s identity and dignity when their parents have committed crimes. People shouldn’t get away with unethical intentional violation of children’s rights and social harm. Marriage is the only ethical way for children to be created.

      • For what it is worth, I don’t think the Constitution would allow you to prohibit unmarried intentional conception. (It might allow you to close down sperm banks.) There’s a right to procreate and it isn’t tied (in the Constitution) to the right to marry.

        I keep forgetting that you don’t particularly care about the genetic link part which means there is actually something we (you and I) agree on. Curious.

        • I totally care about the genetic link, it should be known and recorded on the birth certificate and it’s super significant to identity, but it doesn’t mean a genetic parent always gets to be a legal parent, that’s all. You keep portraying our position as genetic parent should always be the legal parent.

          And no one has a right to procreate with anyone they don’t have a right to marry. And everyone we have a right to marry, we have a right to procreate with. And everyone we don’t have a right to procreate with, we don’t have a right to marry. That’s pretty well tied together. The court hasn’t ruled on intentional unmarried conception yet, which because it makes a new person, is not covered by privacy or personal liberty.

  4. I look at it like this; If records reflect the identity of the parents who reproduced to create the child then the law will be making people accountable for their own actions rather than the actions of others. Nobody’s identity is concealed or misrepresented and medical records are accurate for medical purposes. The child’s blood relatives will have access to the child’s birth marriage and death records and the child will in turn have that same access to theirs. The people who caused a dependent minor to exist will be responsible for having that minor be dependent upon them and nobody else. If those people are married to others the minor child will receive the added benefit of improved support from their step parent’s income.

    Its perfect the child looses nothing in the arrangement. It should make no difference whether the couple was ever in love. And of course they are a couple. They are a couple that has children together. There is no way around that. Two is a couple and two people coming together to make a baby that succeed are parents. Their respective spouses are step parents. Its simple as that.

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