Hacking marriage: polyamory, creative prenups, platonic co-parenting, open marriage, and the power of contracts.

Author:Adams, Diana

The United States government really wants you to get hitched. Married couples enjoy over 1,ooo specific rights and responsibilities under the law, from tax credits to immigration to health insurance. Here's the problem: Over 50 percent of American adults are unmarried, yet many of those people are nonetheless part of families or relationships that could and should benefit tremendously from official status.

As same-sex marriages gradually win legal and social status, it's becoming harder to make the case that these other relationships shouldn't be similarly recognized. Luckily, thanks to the powerful tool of private contracts, families of all kinds can and do figure out ways to protect their love and family relationships with the people they choose.

Build Your Own Family

As a family law attorney and family mediator who primarily serves lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and other clients with nontraditional families, I see people every day with the same questions: Can I get health insurance for my partner? Can he immigrate to live with me? Can we pay taxes together to get a benefit if he's my dependent? Can I visit him in the hospital? To their disappointment, my answer is often no.

A nontraditional family structure is one that falls outside of our traditional nuclear family model. Some of my clients are platonic co-parents. A gay man, for instance, might want to be a biological father but would rather not spend the $100,000 needed to become a parent by the complex legal and medical process of surrogacy. Instead, he chooses to raise a child with a single female friend, who would rather parent with a dear friend than rush to marry just so her child will have an involved father. I also serve polyamorous couples in consensually nonmonogamous relationships. Some clients are triads (or throuples)--three people in a primary relationship, who may or may not be monogamous with one another, and who have their own set of legal challenges.

While these family structures may seem far out, they are increasingly common and, especially in the case of polyamory, increasingly visible. Showtime's TV show Polyamory: Married & Dating and the upcoming documentary Monogamish (in which I appear) are just two examples of the uptick in media interest.

For the Children

The strongest resistance to the idea of legal recognition for nontraditional families often comes in the form of concern for children involved. Studies, such as the widely publicized 2011 report Why Marriage Matters from a team of conservative scholars chaired by W. Bradford Wilcox, are brought out to support the idea that monogamous, straight marriage is the best context for raising children.

What the body of sociological work on this topic actually demonstrates is that stability of parenting figures is best for children; a revolving door of step-moms and step-dads is clearly sub-optimal. Andrew Cherlin, who wrote The Marriage Go-Round and co-authored a Brookings Institution report with Wilcox entitled The Marginalization of Marriage in America, cites the numerous...

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