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Two Moms and a Dad 

When a young boy’s sperm donor is an involved father, can the new wife of his mom and his donor both have the privileges of parental rights…

Two Moms and a Dad 

When a young boy’s sperm donor is an involved father, can the new wife of his mom and his donor both have the privileges of parental rights?  


This is a happy story. When my friend Clara moved to DC a few years ago from a southern state, she had Aaron, her two-year old son, in tow. She also had Sam, a very committed sperm donor-dad who is so involved that she even set aside an extra room in her house for his visits. And Aaron calls Sam “Dad.”

After a few years in DC, Clara met Debby. They are now married, and the two of them are raising Aaron together with occasional happy visits from his very involved sperm dad.

Now, for the moment of unhappiness: When Aaron enrolled in kindergarten, Clara wanted to make sure that Debby could pick him up after school, get him vaccinated, and be at his bedside if he ever had to go to the hospital. She also wanted to make sure that Sam could stay involved. If Debby and Clara had been together when Clara got pregnant, then, under an innovative 2009 DC law, Debby could have “consented” to Clara’s insemination and been named a parent; Sam could even have been recognized as the father if he and Clara had a written agreement. So, if Clara had waited, then it would have been fairly easy to make sure Aaron had three parents who could all be there for him.

But Aaron was five. Yes, Debby could adopt Aaron (DC, like a number of other jurisdictions, recognizes second parent adoptions), but adoption can be a long process, complete with home visits and many legal forms. And then Sam wouldn’t have any legal rights.

As Clara asked me, “So what’s a mom to do?” She knows that I teach family law and write about third party reproduction. Many years ago, I also worked at a law firm with one of the country’s leading lawyers whose practice proudly — and accurately — proclaims that it represents “all” kinds of families.

Back to the happy part of the story. Because Clara lives in DC, she could use the “de facto parent” law that would give Debby many of the same rights as a parent. So, Debby now has the right to custody and visitation and the obligation to pay child support (in case she and Clara ever get divorced which, I am convinced will never happen). Aaron has gained an almost-parent, Clara and Debby have made yet another legal sign of their commitment to one another, and Sam hasn’t lost anything.

Symbolically, they’ve also made a huge crack in the image of a traditional two-parent family, with married mom and dad. Of course, they’re not alone. A few other states, ranging from Louisiana (yes, two dads are possible there, although that’s another story) to Delaware to California, as of this past October, now explicitly allow for more than two parents.

This does make some people unhappy, who see it as destructive and an assault on traditional families.

But it makes these new families — and their friends — very happy.

NOTE THAT NAMES AND IDENTIFYING DETAILS HAVE BEEN CHANGED, ALTHOUGH THE DESCRIPTIONS OF THE LAW HAVEN’T.

Naomi Cahn is the Harold H. Greene Professor of Law at George Washington University Law School, and the co-author, with Wendy Kramer, of Finding our Families (Avery 2013).