Should You Tell Your Kids About Polyamory?

For polyamorous parents, choosing whether or not to let our kids know about our relationships is a major decision. There are pros and cons to both choices.

I generally believe you are better off being open with your kids, unless there is some compelling reason not to. Other people will advise the opposite—don’t tell your kids unless you need to. No one can decide what is right for your family—and don’t be afraid to take your time deciding. Very rarely will you face a time crush or deadline on this decision.

Telling Your Kids About Polyamory

Pros:

  • Kids are smart, observant, and not always inclined to go to their parents with their concerns. Telling them yourself can save a lot of heart ache and hassle. If you don’t tell them, sooner or later, they will figure out that someone is having “an affair” with all kinds of problems resulting.
  • You don’t need to keep your poly partners a secret. You can invite them over to the house, openly plan your next get together, and generally not worry about hiding an important part of your life from your kids.
  • You will be practicing what you preach. Openness, honesty, and trust are hallmarks of polyamory. And most of us would like our kids to embrace those values, no matter what relationships they eventually form for themselves. Teaching your kids to be open and honest and trustworthy while keeping a major part of your life secret can be just a bit difficult. If/when they discover your secrets, your teachings will suddenly seem a lot less worthwhile.

Cons:

  • You can just about guarantee that sooner of later a young child who doesn’t understand the idea of personal information, social behavior, and how not to terminally embarrass parents will mention to grandma, or a teacher, or the pastor, mommy’s dates with her boyfriend on Thursdays.
  • Closeted polies only. Your children who are old enough to understand keeping secrets will need to keep your secrets for you—a hard burden to put on any child. This is less of a problem if you have already established clear boundaries between private and public information. If they understand that we don’t talk about so-and-so’s private thing (like Aunt Laura’s difficulty getting pregnant) and only Aunt Laura can choose who to tell, your relationship(s) can fall into the same category. It helps if they understand and trust that THEIR private stuff will remain theirs to share or not.  If they aren’t used to some things being private, and suddenly there is this big thing that they aren’t allowed to talk about with anyone…that’s hard on a kid, and not fair to them.
  • Closeted polies only. Teenagers with teenage resentments may try to blackmail you by threatening to out you. Ideally, our kids have been raised so this type of behavior isn’t an issue. In the real world, kids can learn some pretty shitty behavior, and especially when torn between divorced parents, or put on the spot by peer pressure, etc.
  • Polies married to or otherwise closely entwined with their kids other parent. Your kids may worry that your wanting/needing other partners means your relationship w/ their other parent is in danger. It may take a while for them to be sure your relationship(s) with other people won’t lead to divorce/break up.

Not Telling Your Kids About Polyamory

Pros:

  • Closeted polies. Don’t need to worry about your kids outing you (by accident or on purpose).
  • Closeted polies. No stress on your kids from needing to keep your secrets.
  • No stress on your kids worrying about their parents splitting up.

Cons:

  • Risk that your kids find out for themselves or from someone else. Along with this is the risk that, they will believe you are having an affair. Having your secrets discovered–especially if your kids believe there is an affair going on behind their other parent’s back–can damage their trust and respect for you. Worse, they may not tell you they have discovered your secret. Instead, they may quietly stress and worry about their family being destroyed.
  • Severely restricts your options in your relationships and ability to become entwined with your poly partners.

 

You’ll notice that the “cons” list for not telling your kids is significantly shorter than the “cons” list for telling them. But that first con for not telling the is a killer.

During the lead up to and process of my custody case, my ex and I got a lot of practice trying to keep things secret from our kids. Some things that we just didn’t want the kids to know because it would worry them. Some things we legally weren’t allowed to discuss with or around our kids.

It didn’t take our kids long to figure out we were keeping things from them. We constantly found our daughter eavesdropping at the top of the stairs, staying up late at night (hours after bedtime) to overhear grown up conversations, and otherwise doing everything she could to learn what we weren’t telling her. Much worse, at 7 years old, her ability to trust her parents was completely destroyed.

There are good and valid reasons to keep your lifestyle secret from your kids. But given my own experience, I highly suggest you think once, twice and three times before you decide that is the best course for your family.

Wondering how to tell your kids about polyamory?

Not sure how to introduce your kids to your poly partners?

Introducing Your Polyamory Partners to Your Children

If you got here looking for ideas on explaining polyamory to your kids, try this post.

I am going to stake out an apparently unconventional opinion here. Are you are talking about moving in together, co-parenting, or otherwise creating a situation where your kids and poly partners would need to relate with each other directly? If not, your kids interactions with your poly partners should be no different from with your other friends. And if you are talking about moving in together, co-parenting, etc, your kids should have met your partners long since.

Growing up, I know who my parents friends were. I even knew they had different kinds of friends. There were the friends who were my friend’s parents. My parents got together and hung out with them once a month, but the connection didn’t last when I moved to a different school. There were my father’s friends from work, the people he enjoyed spending time with but also had to stay professional with, so we kids were largely “out of sight, out of mind” when they came over. There were mom’s special friends from way back. We kids actually knew them by their first names. They would come over and drink tea and we had to play with their kids whether we liked them or not.

So let’s pretend you make a new friend at work, you invite your friend over to hang out and watch a movie sometime. What do you say to your kids? Probably something like, “Hey kids my new friend So-and-so is coming over tonight. Be polite, make sure the place isn’t an utter disaster and try not to interrupt too often, okay?”

Or you hit it off with someone at your hiking club and go out for a day. “I’ll be out tomorrow with So-and-so from the hiking club, here’s how you can reach me. Don’t give (other parent/guardian/babysitter) too much trouble.”

Your kids are aware of this friend, but probably don’t pay much attention.

Sooner or later,  your friend runs into our kids for the first time, whether it’s that night or three months down the line. What do you say Probably something like: “This is my friend So-and-so I’ve told you about, So-and-so, these are my kids.”

There is no reason for your kids to know the details of your relationship—anymore than I knew just what my mother talked about with her friends when they came to visit. As a ittle kid, I didn’t want to know anyway. It was grown up stuff, and probably boring. *yuck face* As a teenager, I had my own stuff that I cared about a lot more than making nice with my parents friends.

What about if you get closer to your poly partners and want to entwine your lives a bit more? Well, what if you got really close to a friend and wanted them to be more a part of your life? You’d probably invite them to the summer bar-be-que that has a whole bunch of family friends and what-not. You might invite your kids to related to them in small ways, “Hey, So-and-so just told me they did X this weekend. You were saying you wanted to learn more about X, would you like to talk with them about it?” “The hiking cub is having a family day, I’d love it if you’d come.” Hopefully your friend makes a similar effort, “So-and-so got tickets to (thing) this weekend and was wondering if we’d like to join them.”

Like any other friend, it slowly becomes normal for your poly partner to be around a bit more, participating in your family’s public life. Maybe you meet up to watch a parade and your partner offers to buy flags or something for the kids. Small things, small steps.

First rule of kids: if you don’t treat it like a big deal, they’ll assume it isn’t a big deal.
Second rule of kids: if it’s not going to have a direct impact on their life, they probably won’t care.

So introduce your partner early, as just another friend.

Trust me, even an introverted, house-bound hermit like my partner Michael has friends our kid knows about. That Michael interacts with these friends mostly online or by phone doesn’t change that they are a part of his life and the kid knows about them. “Kid I’m talking with So-and-So right now. Please quiet down so I can hear.” “You want to say hi to So-and-so?” “So-and-so may be coming to visit next week-isn’t that great!”

Parents having relationships with other adults is a normal part of life for most kids. Do your kids really care that your relationship with your cousin is different from your relationship with your friend is different from your relationship with your poly partner? Not unless and until those relationships start to impact them. For children it’s “grown up stuff, yuck!” and for teenagers it’s “Old folks are so out off touch.” In either case, it’s no big deal.

“Kid, this is So-and-so I told you about. We’re going to the movies. I’ll be back later. Don’t burn the house down.”

Do you really need to say more?

Help support Polyamory on Purpose!

Resources for Custody Cases Involving Polyamory

I don’t have nearly as much to offer here as I’d like. Unfortunately, resources for polyamory, and non-monogamy in general, are still slim on the ground. If you know of any additional resources, please include them in the comments.

Dr. Eli Sheff

Dr. Sheff is an educational consultant on sexual and relationship minorites. However she is better known in the polyamory community as one of the top researchers on polyamory. A few years ago she left academia and is now available as an expert witness for folks facing court challenges based on their life- and love-styles. Sheff’s testimony as an experienced researcher who spent 10 years gathering information on children raised in poly relationships can be extremely helpful in establishing that polyamory is not harmful to your children.

Poly-Friendly Professionals Lists

These lists are far from complete, but a good starting place for finding a lawyer or therapist in your area who is open to polyamory. If you can only find one poly-friendly lawyer, and can afford to hire two lawyers, I recommend hiring the poly-friendly lawyer to represent your kids. Your lawyer is required to act like they think polyamory is good for kids regardless of their personal thoughts. Your kid’s lawyer is required to act in what they think is the best interest of the kids. Which means if they support polyamory they are more likely to support you, if they are against polyamory they will almost definitely support your ex.

Poly-Friendly Professionals List

Love More Poly Professionals List

Sexual Freedom Legal Defense and Education Fund

According to their website, the SFLDEF provides:

  • Money towards legal and litigation expenses, such as attorney fees and expert witness fees.
  • Referrals to attorneys and expert witnesses knowledgeable about alternative sexual expression and willing to take cases dealing with it.
  • Public information and education about alternative sexual expression

for people in alternative sexual lifestyles. Really wish I’d know about these folks during my case. I suggest making them your first call.

This wraps up our review of polyamory in child custody cases.

Child Custody Cases: How to Protect Yourself

This month we are examining the impact of polyamory on child custody cases. Last week we reviewed who is at risk. This week, we are looking at ways you can protect yourself before and during a custody case.

Before a custody case

If the most important thing you can do, before any custody case starts, is to find out what your level of risk is.  First, you’ll want to be sure that your local child services or equivalent cannot take your children away and based on your relationships style.  At this time I don’t know of any jurisdiction where children can be taken just because of polyamory.  But it’s better to be safe.  The easiest way to be sure is just to make an anonymous call and ask about your jurisdiction’s rules. You may also be able to check their website.

Next, and perhaps most importantly, check with a lawyer or legal service about grandparents rights laws. Many lawyers offer a free 15 minute consultation. You may also find relevant information on grandparent’s rights websites online–but a local lawyer will be able to give you more complete information. In particular you want to know who, other than the other parent, can sue for visitation and/or custody and under what circumstances they are allowed to sue for custody.

Finally, if you and the child’s other parent/legal guardian are not married, determine (if you haven’t already) under what circumstances they can sue for custody.

Next, you need to make a choice (if you haven’t already) about whether or not to be out about your relationships. In an ironic way, once you are in a custody battle, the best protection for you and your children requires you to be out. However being out also increases your risk of ending up in a custody battle.

If you are out, or choose to be out, make sure your child’s teacher and doctor know your lifestyle. If the doctor disapproves, find a new doctor who is more open minded. You will probably be stuck with the teacher. With both, you want to do everything you can to be their favorite parent. Homework is always in on time. Vaccinations are always up-to-date. Be the first to volunteer as chaperon for class outings. Never miss a parent teacher conference. If the doctor asks for a test, get it done the same day. The same goes for your kid’s tutors, speech therapists, or anyone else who deals with your child in a “professional” capacity.

If you can, and have a good reason to, get your child into a therapist. If possible, you want a poly and/or LGBT friendly therapist. If not, be willing to take the time to educate your own poly-friendly professional. If you have any reason to believe a custody case is imminent, just tell the therapist that you expect to be in a custody battle shortly, and you want your child to have support for the stress and fears the battle might cause. Again, make sure the therapist knows your relationship style, and what your kids know about your relationships. This can be as simple as, “Kid may mention Uncle Ben, that’s my boyfriend who comes over for family movie night every couple of weeks. Kid considers him part of the family.”

By doing this, you are building up a group of people who can vouch for you as a parent, and know about your relationships. I told my kids’ therapist about my relationship style on a spur of the moment instinct. But when she was subpoenaed to appear in court, she said that yes she knew about my relationships, and she didn’t see what that had to do with the case. It didn’t effect the children in anyway. Her testimony didn’t have any impact on the trial (I had to “luck” into the most bigoted judge in the county), but it was a key factor in the appeals decision. If you have a less bigoted judge, and you can bring testimony from a therapist, teacher, doctor, or other professional that they knew about the relationships and didn’t see any harm (or better yet, saw some benefit), it can save your custody case.

If there is anything “alternative” in your approach to childrearing, now is the time to go mainstream. Co sleeping, breast feeding a child over two, skipping vaccinations, not having beds bc sleeping on the floor is better for everyone’s backs…any of that and more WILL be used against you in a custody case. A custody case, especially one between parents, often boils down to a “who’s the most perfect parent” contest. Polyamory is one black mark against you. You can’t afford anymore.

If your concern is the child’s other parent/legal guardian, and you are out, it is a huge, huge thing if they have ever participated in or approved of polyamory. Get that shit documented. Except in cases of a bigoted judge, having your ex being approving of poly in the past, and then try to use poly as a reason to take your kids, will just make them look like an ass in court.

If you are not out, bury yourself in that closet. You can’t prove a negative, folks. If your ex or other relatives have any inkling of your relationships, they can use it against you. In the US, innocent until proven guilty only applies in criminal court. In civil court, it’s your ord against theirs, and you can’t prove you are not poly–especially when you are. And if your ex has any kind of proof about your relationships, they CAN prove that you are lying. Being proved a liar in court is a quick path to losing custody. Judges don’t like being lied to. Seriously, if there is any chance that your opponent in a custody case might know or find out about your relationships, you are far better off being loud and proud, and fighting for acceptance. Before you end up in court, being in the closet may help keep you out of court. Once you end up in court, it’s an albatross around your neck.

Start saving for the appeal. Hate to say it, but its reality. Judges are a crap shoot. You can get one you listens to your ex’s arguments about poly, snorts and says “don’t waste my time.” Or you could get one who hears the word “polyamory” and immediately makes a decision from the bench saying he’s heard all he needs to, the kids are going to your ex bc you are obviously an unfit parent. I’ve seen the first happen (wanted to give that judge a hug). The second happened to my then-metamour. Who had tried the “hide in the closet route” and her ex whipped out a cell phone photo proving she as lying.

Point being, if you get the wrong judge, all your preparations won’t mean anything. If the judge does hand down a decision from the bench or ignores the testimony of Dr. Sheff or the therapist, or otherwise steps out of line in ruling against you bc of poly, an appeal may have a chance. But appeals are expensive. So start saving now.

During a custody case

Get everything else as perfect as possible. We’re all human, but if you can manage it, or if you can get help from others to pull it off, this is a time to be super human. Get the kids as close to perfect attendance as possible–no days off school w/o a doctors note. Be the parent that the teachers love. If you don’t have one, get a solid, steady income. Make your house immaculate, cooked dinner on the table at 5 every night, etc etc. Basically do everything you can to be Leave it to Beaver (w/o the 1950s gender roles, of course.)

This is a great place for the polycule and poly community to pitch in and support. Especially if the poly parent is in a situation of needing to work two jobs to make ends meet, struggling with chronic health problems, or anything else that interferes with creating  “perfect” home life. Folks can help clean, offer to tutor the kids after school, provide transportation to doctors,grocery shopping, etc, donate cookware, whatever is needed.

Disclaimer

Help support Polyamory on Purpose!

Child Custody and Polyamory: Who is at Risk

Losing custody of their children is many parent’s nightmare. And I don’t mean losing custody as in “joint custody where you get your child every other weekend.” Granted, joint custody is rough on everyone, and there are very few parents who would happily opt out of over 50% of their kids’ lives.

But at the end of the day, there is a difference between losing custody in a dispute with your ex where you both need to be grown-ups and work out a schedule in the best interest of the kids, and having your kids taken from you by an ex, grandparents, or social services, with little to no say in their lives and upbringing, because your relationship is considered inherently unhealthy and grounds for declaring you an unfit parent.

Folks who remember the early 90s and prior will remember when it was practically routine for LGBT parents to lose their children simply for being who they were. It has happened to poly folk as well. And as the people around us become increasingly aware of the existence of polyamory, it seems to be happening more often.

The short version of “who is at risk” is “everyone.” There is, to my knowledge, no country or jurisdiction that explicitly prevents children from being taken on the basis of their parents polyamorous relationships. This includes countries where polygamy is legal–I know of one custody case in a country with legalized polygamy where a polyamorous parent is in danger of having their children taken due to their relationships. (Details withheld for privacy)

However, there are various levels of risk.

  • Every poly parent is at risk from their local version of child services, but this risk is usually low
  • Most poly parents in the US (and several other countries) are at risk from grandparents and other relatives, this risk is moderate and varies with the local laws
  • Many poly parents are at risk from their exes, and this risk is usually high.

Child Services

Child services goes by slightly different names everywhere. I’ve dealt with child protective services (CPS) and division of youth and family services (DYFS). I’ve heard of a number of other acronyms. These government organizations are charged with ensuring children have healthy homes and are not being abused or neglected. How they meet this charge varies.

A state like New Jersey is a tossup. On the one hand, New Jersey (DYFS) is liberal enough that taking kids just b/c their parents have an odd relationship is frowned on. On the other hand, if a DYFS worker doesn’t take the kids, and it later turns out there was abuse, they can go to jail as an accessory to the abuse. So there is a lot of cover-your-ass among DYFS workers and kids taken on the slightest evidence. The good news is the kids usually return home sooner or later.

No US state that I am aware of classifies a parent’s adult relationships as child abuse. You can’t be accused of being abusive just for being poly in the US. I don’t know of any country where you can be accused of abuse just for being poly, but my experience has been entirely within the US. Anyone remember the polygamous ranch in Texas that was raided about 10 years ago, and over 100 kids taken by child services? They were pretty damn clear in the media that the reason they took the kids was the polygamy. But if you dug into the details of the case, not one of the abuse accusations was actually about polygamy. The legal paperwork all focused on child sexual abuse (child brides), forced marriages, neglect, and other forms of physical abuse. Even in Texas they needed something more than “their parents weren’t monogamous” to actually take the children.

My experience with child services has been that even if they could take the kids just for being non-monogamous, they usually don’t want to. These people are dealing with cases where they find kids locked in cages in attics, kids that keep ending up in the hospital with broken bones, kids that are actually being sexually abused, etc. As long as they believe the children are healthy and happy with you, they don’t want to waste their limited time and resources when there are kids who really need their help. The exception to this is, of course, the bigots, who you will find in every line of work and see anything outside the norm as inherently abusive. Thankfully, at least in my experience and the experience of other poly parents I have heard from, these are relatively rare.

Grandparents and Other Relatives

In the US, most states have something called “grandparents rights” which allow grandparents (and sometimes other relatives) to sue for visitation or custody under certain set circumstances. The circumstances vary from “anytime they choose” to “only if the parents are divorced” to “the kids must have lived with the relatives for a year w/o their parents present.”

In parts of Great Britain, grandparents must petition the court for the right to sue for visitation or custody. Six provinces in Canada allow grandparents to sue for visitation as well.  If anyone has information on grandparents rights in other countries, please leave a comment.

To the best of my knowledge, Pennsylvania in the US is the only jurisdiction where grandparents can’t use polyamory as a reason to gain custody. This is the result of my own custody case. The appeal from my case set a state precedent establishing that polyamory is not a valid reason to overturn the presumption of children being better off with a parent than anyone else. Details of my case, and the appeals ruling, for those interested.

Your Ex

Per every lawyer and legal expert I have discussed this with, here’s the short and sweet version. If your ex is polyamorous, or previously practiced polyamory, they generally can’t use poly against you in court. If they are monogamous but gave their approval and acceptance of your poly relationships, they generally can’t use poly against you in court. If your ex is monogamous, and either did not know of your poly relationships or has made it clear from the get-go that they do not approve, then they can use polyamory against you in a child custody case.

No one I have spoken with knows of a jurisdiction which explicitly protects poly parents in a custody case with the other parent. Legal experts say my case’s precedent may apply between two parents. But the wording isn’t explicit.  It’ll probably take another appeal and Superior Court ruling to decide one way or another. With no protection for poly parents, the judge (or other decision maker in other countries) can use polyamory as a basis awarding custody to your ex. In extreme cases, they can also use it as a reason to deny or restrict your visitation.

In my case, the appeals court ruled against the trial judge based a law that did not explicitly protect poly parents. However PA law does say that a parent’s relationship which does not involve or negatively impact the children is not relevant. The combination of my children’s therapist stating on record that the children were not harmed by polyamory and the grandparents inability to prove evidence of harm, allowed the appeals court to invoke this law. Thanks to he work done by the LGBT community, many US states now have similar laws. These laws may or may not protect poly parents depending on their wording, interpretation and the judge you are dealing with.

An ex doesn’t need to prove you are unfit, or in any way a bad parent. They just need to prove they are a better parent or more fit. Unfortunately, bias against anything non-mainstream are come. Even in the best custody cases, poly parents facing a monogamous ex have the scales weighted against them.

Standard disclaimer

Next week, we’ll look at steps you can take to keep from losing your kids because of your poly relationships.

Help support Polyamory on Purpose!

Polyamory and Children: Child Custody Review

In the last three months, I have learned of four custody cases in which polyamory is being used as a reason for taking children away from their parents. That’s more than I’ve heard of in the last three years. So before we get into more generic stuff about raising children in a poly family, we’re going to spend a couple of weeks reviewing the way polyamory can and will impact child custody cases, and what you can do to protect yourself and your children.

If you are facing a custody case, make sure you talk with a lawyer or other legal expert. The information provided in this blog is for information purposes only.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be covering:

  1. Who is at risk
  2. How you can protect yourself and your children
  3. Resources

Some parts of this topic will be specific to the US, others will be useful for any poly folk.

Raising Children in Polyamorous Families

A few years ago I started writing about raising children in polyamorous families. I was never able to finish the series, because my custody case made it a very painful topic for me. Time, while it doesn’t actually heal anything, does give us a chance to heal. So I’m going back to that old series and going to finish it now.

If you missed my original polyamory and children posts, here they are:

Random Babble Post – For the Children

Polyamory and Children: Where is the Research At?

Polyamory and Children: It’s a complicated subject

Polyamory and Children: Opening up?

Telling Your Children about Polyamory

Polyamory and Children: Introducing New SOs

Polyamory and Children: Research Update

Polyamory and Children: Legal Stuff

Polyamory and Children: What do I call Mom’s Boyfriend?

Polyamory and Children Guest Blog: Marmoset, Metamour and Ice Cream

Bonus Post: Custody Update and Important Legal Precedent

Review of: The Polyamorists Next Door, by Dr. Eli Sheff

Book Review: Raf and the Robots

Polyamory Hurts Kids? Not in the Real World

New Posts

Laws and legal practices affecting our children

Polyamory and Children: Child Custody Review

Child Custody and Polyamory: Who is at Risk

Child Custody Cases: How to Protect Yourself

Resources for Custody Cases Involving Polyamory

Introducing Your Polyamory Partners to Your Children

Should You Tell Your Kids About Polyamory?

Helping Our Kids Talk About Polyamory

Talking with Your Child’s Teacher (or other professional) about Polyamory

When Your Kids Discover Your Closeted Polyamorous Relationship

Legal Options for Multi-Parent Polyamorous Families

Polyamory and Child Custody (Guest Post by Gracie X)

Laws and legal practices affecting our children

If you’re been following this blog for a while, you’ll understand why today’s topic is a personally painful one. I’m not going to go as in depth as a usually do, in an attempt to avoid triggering myself.

If anyone else has knowledge or personal experience in this area, please feel free to share in the comics.

Our children are, for many people, both our most precious gift, and our greatest vulnerability. “Think of the children!” is an effective rallying cry for the defense of the status quo because even criminals want nothing to do with those who harm children.

I’ve previously covered how there is no evidence that polyamory is harmful to children, but until legal shit catches up with the research (and for tha matter, until we have more extensive and definitive research), people who are in poly relationships will face threats to their children.

Custody Laws

This will vary widely by jurisdiction. In the US there is no state that fully protects poly children in a custody dispute. Pennsylvania as some protection, but the precedent setting that protection is full of loopholes, and it’s going to take another poly family being dragged through the mud to determine the full extent of that protection.

Anywhere else in the US, the judge can summarily give your children to your ex just because you are polyamorous. In states that have grandparents laws, or otherwise allow third parties to sue for custody or visitation, your relatives, in-laws, and in some cases friends, can use polyamory as a justification to ask the legal system to give them control of your children.

From what I can tell, in the European Union the “best interests of the children” rule applies, leaving the door open for exes to claim that being raised in a poly home is not in the best interests f their child. How “best interests of the children” is determined will vary from country to country. I have no knowledge of custody in the rest of the world, and invite those with experience or knowledge to comment below.

Child Protective Services

Again, varies hugely by jurisdiction. Personal experience and anecdotal evidence is that child protective services usually don’t want to get involved in polyamory or non-monogamy. They have really cases of child abuse that puts kids in the hospital to deal with, they don’t want to worry about kids who are healthy, happy, and cared for, who just happen to have an unconventional home life.

That doesn’t mean a particularly bigoted or closed minded child protective agent can’t fuck with your family. Child protective services usually have broad powers to take children, and prove the abuse afterwards. Needing to prove abuse first leaves the risk the child will be further injured or even killed during the time needed to prove anything. Most child protective reps are careful exercising this power, because if a judge determines later they overstepped, they will be in trouble. But some reps may think they can trump up  reason to take your kids, and in some jurisdictions poly may be ruled a sufficient reason to take your kids–especially if the judge handling child protection cases is bigoted or closed minded themselves.

Paternity Laws

Laws establishing paternity, and a father’s responsibilities, vary widely. In some jurisdictions, the law assumes that a woman’s husband is the father of any children she has. Jurisdictions with this kind of law will often have hoops poly families need to jump through to establish a non-spousal father.

Not getting a legal marriage can avoid this issue, unless you run into common law marriage statutes.

Two Parent Laws

The assumption that every child has two, and only two, parents is legally common. it is also very hurtful to children raised in poly families who may lose all contact with a beloved parent due to their lack of custody or visitation rights.

A recent towards allowing three parents on a birth certificate has developed in the US and England, though only in limited cases.

 

Standard disclaimer– I’m not a lawyer, talk to a professional about any legal issues/concerns you may have.

 

Again, please leave a comment if you have any experience or knowledge to add to this topic.

 

More on laws affecting polyamory.

Polyamory Hurts Kids? Not in the Real World

Any parent who chooses to enter a polyamorous relationship will sooner or later run into the charge that polyamory hurts kids, and they are being selfish by putting their desires over their kids’ well-being.

I recently ran across a blog post claiming to be based on psychological research that used big fancy words to say just that. I am taking the time to write an extra post this week specifically to refute this and other misinformation about raising kids in poly relationships.

First, the short version:

There is absolutely no evidence that children are harmed by healthy polyamorous relationships. (See: research list!)

There is some as yet inconclusive evidence that polyamory may provide benefits for children.

A lot more research needs to be done before anything else is known for certain.

The Long Version: Polyamory Doesn’t Hurt Kids

Most critics say that polyamory hurts kids in one of two ways:

  1. Unhealthy emotional development/abandonment issues—the idea is that because poly parents are constantly bringing new partners into their kids lives, who then leave again, children of poly parents face the equivalent of going through a divorce over and over again, but with bonus trauma. Because poly partners don’t get visitation rights, the kids will never again see the adults they have formed emotional bonds with.
  2. Family secrets—forcing children to keep family secrets places an unfair burden on them. Forcing children to lie to their peers, teachers, and other adults not only teaches them unethical behavior but is emotionally damaging. The alternative, lying to kids about their parents relationship, is obviously equally damaging, because sooner or later they will find out the truth and be hurt/resentful/betrayed about being lied to.

The idea that children of poly parents will be damaged in some way by their parents various partners coming in and out of their lives is an understandable concern. Though perhaps misplaced. According to sociologist Andrew Cherlin, “…family life in the United States involves more transitions than anywhere else. There is more marriage but also more divorce. There are more lone parents but also more repartnering. Cohabiting relationships are shorter. Over the course of people’s adult lives, there is more movement into and out of marriages and cohabiting relationships than in other countries (The Marriage-Go-Round, p. 19)”.

So let’s be blunt: the issue is not that polyamory is bad for children because poly relationships are unstable and transitory. Unstable and transitory relationships with adults can be unhealthy for children. Unstable and transitory relationships can happen in any type of relationship, but critics of polyamory assume it is more common to poly relationships than mono relationships.

The real question is, is there something about polyamory that encourages increased relationship instability in a way that affects kids? So far, the answer seems to be “No.”

Poly parents who have taken part in research studies have shared these concerns, and taken steps to reduce the impact on their kids. Common steps include:

  • Only introducing poly partners if/when the relationship is stable and can be expected to last a long time (and sometimes not even then.)
  • Encouraging kids to see poly partners as members of the parent’s general social circle of friends, and as such, not expected to necessarily be a permanent part of the kids lives.
  • Making an effort to give kids time with former poly partners, so that relationships between kid and ex can continue even though the relationships between the adults have ended. (You know, just like mono parents do when a relationship ends.)

The kids of poly parents who have taken part in studies haven’t shared their parents concerns, and have rarely expressed any sense of abandonment or trauma from their parent’s partners moving in and out of their lives.

As far as family secrets go, what research has been done suggests a variety of common sense approaches tends to prevent problems. Approaches such as simply being open about the family lifestyle, so there are no secrets to hide. Or teaching children about privacy and boundaries (much the way my parent’s taught me to respond to rude questions about why my brother didn’t look like the rest of the family—he and I were both adopted, but I was lucky enough to blend in with our adoptive family).

In fact, the only negative researchers have found to raising children in a poly household is the stigma they may face from those who don’t approve of polyamory. Even this stigma is less than many would expect because poly families tend to blend. Is that group of three “parents” a blended family of Mother, Father, and Step-mother? Or is that a couple and their best friend who is an unofficial “Aunt?” Most school officials, other kids, and playmates’ parents see multiple adults involved in raising kids every day of the week, so it just doesn’t raise eyebrows very often.

polyamory hurts kids
By Serolynne, Creative Commons LicensedCan you tell what relationship these adults have?

The Long Version: Polyamory May Help Kids

This section comes with tons of caveats. Basically, we just don’t have enough research, and the research we do have is not a wide enough sample. However, there is some evidence that polyamory may provide a better environment for children than monogamy.

Ian Baker provides a well thought out and compelling example of how he believes growing up in a poly family benefited him in his article “Growing Up Poor With Three Parents.”

Ian’s story is anecdotal, but it lines up very well with what research has found so far.

For kids, polyamory can mean:

  • More income, so they are better provided for
  • More adults to take of them
  • With more adults to take care of them, more rested and healthy adults who can give them more attention, time, and energy
  • The ability to have a stay at home parent and multiple incomes
  • And generally a number of other benefits that all boil down to “More adults=more resources=better for kids” whether those resources are skills, life experience, money, time, or anything else.

In Conclusion

Polyamory may or may not be good for kids (we’re waiting on more research), but there is absolutely no evidence that polyamory hurts them. The charge that polyamory hurts kids is the same line that has been used (and disproven) on interracial marriage, LGBT, and every other relationship that someone in society has disapproved of for personal reasons, dressed up in new clothes and flung at polyamory. As of this date (01/05/2015) anyone who claims they have evidence to the contrary is either misinformed or lying.

Finally, a disclaimer:

We need more research into the impact of polyamory on kids. No one who is honestly assessing the facts will disagree. The vast majority of existing research is small scale studies that need to be replicated in larger and more varied groups. There are multiple challenges facing researchers, including:

  1. Getting funding to study polyamory is very difficult
  2. Find a broad enough group of poly-folk for a truly large scale study is even more difficult
  3. The lack of preliminary research into polyamory (we don’t even have a good idea of how many people are polyamorous) makes it harder to do specific research, such as the impact on kids.

Anyone who claims that we know everything we need to know about the impact of polyamory on kids is just flat wrong. What we do know so far is that there is no evidence polyamory hurts kids, that unhealthy or unstable relationships of any variety are bad for kids, and the research so far is consistent across monogamous, heterosexual, LGBT, polyamorous and even kinky relationships: love, consistent parenting, and availability of resources are the keys to raising healthy, happy kids. Everything else is window-dressing.

Book Review: Raf and the Robots

Raf and the Robots children's book for poly familiesRaf is a young boy who loves to write. He even writes at the dinner table where he sits with his family. A family which includes three adults and two other children. Raf’s latest story is about robots, but when he tries to find someone to read it, no one has time! Thinking no one cares about his story, Raf crumples it up and throws it away, but when they finish they’re chores, everyone wants to hear Raf’s story.

Raf and the Robots is an illustrated children’s book featuring an unconventional nuclear family. What kind of unconventional family? Who knows? The three adults in Raf’s life aren’t labelled, allowing chidren to decide for themselves if Raf’s family is a blended family, poly triad, couple with surrogate, couple with friend/relative living with them, of anything else they can imagine.

When I first heard about Raf and the Robots I was hopeful but not excited. Writing children’s books isn’t easy (says the author who can’t manage it), and to do it without introducing the adults as fitting some pre-defined category is even more challenging. I was delightfully surprised when I read the review copy I received. Raf and the Robots is a well written and engaging story. Unlike many children’s stories about non-normative families, it doesn’t focus on Raf’s family. The story is about Raf’s need for someone to pay attention to his story, and how he learns that just because someone says “not now,” it doesn’t mean “not ever.” In this, Raf’s experience reflects what Dr. Eli Sheff found when interviewing children of poly families–family is just a part of Raf’s reality, not what his life is about.

I highly recommend Raf and the Robots for children and families. For children whose families include more than two adults, it will be a welcome chance to see their family reflected in the stories they read, for conventional families, it will show children that other family styles exist, and for all children it’s just a good story.

Raf and the Robots is the first book in the Stories for Unique Families series. It’s available as an ebook on Amazon, Apple, and Kobo.

 

(Originally posted Sept 28, 2014. This post contains affiliate links.)