Minimal changes here. A few years ago I expanded this topic into a short series. Revised 4/13/17.
I wasn’t planning on tackling this topic for a while yet, but I’m afraid I can’t think of anything else to write on about polyam and children right now. Not because there isn’t much more to say, but because of my own life.
As I’ve mentioned before I was recently involved in a custody situation in which polyamory was made an issue. Largely on the basis of polyamory, the children were taken from me and their father (my ex) and given to their grandparents. Unfortunately I don’t have the money to appeal, and couldn’t get it in the time allowed. (I usually stay out of political stuff, just to jaded I guess, but the fact that if you can’t afford to spend several thousand dollars with less than a month’s notice means you can’t appeal, really gives well off folks a massive advantage in the civil ‘justice’ system, IMO.)
The laws regarding polyamory (and other forms of multi-linking) and children vary significantly from state to state, and country to country, but the general summary in the US is this:
With very rare exceptions, child protective services will not involve themselves unless there is clear evidence of neglect or abuse. Even if there are states whose laws allow the children to be taken away solely on the basis of lifestyle, CPS (or whatever name they go by in a given state) rarely cares, because they are overworked dealing with real cases of child abuse, abandonment and other horrors. So, living openly poly will not generally create any risk of losing your children.
If, however, you ever get involved in a custody battle, being polyamorous may put you at a disadvantage. If both parents have previously been involved in polyamorous relationships, and there is no third party, being poly really can’t have an effect (you’re objecting to your ex being in a type of relationship you’ve been in also? Don’t waste my time). If one parent is poly and the other has never been polyam, or if there is a third party involved, than polyamory can hurt you in a custody case. CAN. As PolyMom discussed in her blog several months ago, and I have experienced myself, it is fully possible for poly to brought up in a custody case and utterly ignored (“When I started as a judge back in 19XX, we called this kind of thing having extra resources. I don’t want to hear about it.”)
Being openly poly with children does not need to open you up to legal liabilities or create any risk of losing your children. However, if you do not explore polyamory until after you and your children’s other parent have separated or divorced, and the other parent is not involved in polyamory, you may put yourself at a disadvantage in custody cases. Your two options to avoid this risk are to either be a closet poly, or, if you think your ex may be open minded about poly, to go openly to them, discuss your desire to be polyamorous. If you are open about your lifestyle with them, and they don’t take issue with it immediately, than they will have a hard time trying to take issue with it in the future. Unfortunately, not exposing children to polyamory does not necessarily protect you. Even if your children have no knowledge of your lifestyle, never met any of your partners, etc etc; the fact that you engage in poly may still be seen as evidence that you are an unhealthy influence on your children do to your willingness to engage in polyamory.
The bottom line legally right now is that except in rare states that have specific laws regarding how non-conventional relationships should affect custody decisions, whether or not polyamory can hurt you in a custody case depends entirely on the judge and his or her personal take. If you have a judge who is prejudiced, or simply unaware of the reality of polyamory and the evidence that it is not harmful for children you can be in trouble. If you have a judge who is open minded and not against unconventional relationships, it may not effect the case at all.
(Originally posted January 2012)