What details could be worked out before having a child with a friend?
April 23, 2014 7:46 AM   Subscribe

I am considering having a child with a friend to whom I am not married. We would be living separately, but would have joint legal and physical custody. What might be some details that we should work out ahead of time?

Obviously there’s the legal component of custody. There are other things like: whose insurance covers the child before and after birth; how the parents will make decisions; how we will financially support the child; how we deal with holidays; and what happens when one or both of us find new partners/spouses.

But what else? Certainly there are things that we’d have to decide, but not now, like where the child would go to school. I’m looking for things that we could discuss and decide now, at least as an initial proposition.

At least for the scope of this AskMe, I’m not interested in feedback on the choice to have a child with a friend. (That hasn’t been decided yet. Negotiating all of these details is part of our discernment process.) Rather, I’m specifically looking for what details, given the hypothetical fact of two friends having a child, should be considered before having the child.

posted by anonymous to Human Relations (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
A little morbid, but you should plan for who gets custody of the child if both of you pass away before the child is old enough to live on his/her own. Also, what say will the child have in where they live, once they are old enough to understand the situation?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:54 AM on April 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

What things would you consider if you WERE married to this person?

- what happens if one of you dies
- what if one of you becomes disabled or unable to work
- what if one of you wants to move (e.g. for work)
- what if one of you wants to radically reduce their income
- what if one of you gets cold feet
- what religion will the child be brought up in?
- what parenting style you will apply to the child
- what will your family support structure look like and how supportive are they of your unusual arrangement?

and I think

- have you considered marrying this person?

I bet you could find useful resources in materials intended for regular couples thinking about having kids, as well as for families who are working out divorce/separation agreements.
posted by emilyw at 7:55 AM on April 23, 2014 [8 favorites]

In my experience with my sisters' kids, one person has to have 51% custody to have the child on their insurance. (Note: this may be GA specific, and this may not be true any longer, but it used to be.)

I can't imagine that anyone other than the birth mother's insurance would cover the child before birth?

I'd also want to put something in place for when you don't agree - i.e., already have a process of mediation, etc. What happens if one of you wants to move out of state?

Do you agree on ways to raise the child? (i.e., punishment - does one of you believe in it, and one not? )

Basically, I'd want to talk out the basics of things that I anticipate coming into conflict about.

For financial support - what if one of you insists on designer clothes, but the other thinks thrift store or secondhand is fine (especially as a child)? if you decide to contribute equally to the support of the child, who gets to decide what is needed?
posted by needlegrrl at 7:57 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Would this be the first child for either of you?

If it is, consider living together to share the first few years of work related to child-rearing, especially if one of you will be breastfeeding, or the other has been up all night dealing with colic, gas, or teething.

The logistics of infant-to-toddler care can be all-consuming (because they are all-demanding), and especially so for new parents.

Are you both on the same page with things like co-sleeping? potty training timelines/methods? super duper hands-on pediatric approaches vs. something a bit more hands-off? What if mom needs significant bedrest pre- or post-partum?

Are either of you carrying enough life insurance to provide for the other plus the expenses of childcare through several years?
posted by jquinby at 7:57 AM on April 23, 2014 [7 favorites]

Pretty much everything that you'd consider if you were marrying someone, or entering into a binding irreversible close business partnership for 30 years.

How much and how to save for college?

What happens if one of you (or one of your future partners) gets a great career opportunity and needs to move out of state? (Or family emergency, etc.)

Realistic, totally honest financial evaluation: how much debt do you each have? How much do you each have saved? When if ever will you each be prepared to buy a home to house the child?

The point about resources for divorced parents being useful is spot on - check out books about how to negotiate joint custody, the impact of joint custody on children, the impact of new step-parents and step-siblings on children.

Will you two live together for the first 6 months or so? That's when you really need two sets of hands (trading off getting up for middle-of-the-night feedings, etc.).
posted by amaire at 8:00 AM on April 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

Certainly there are things that we’d have to decide, but not now, like where the child would go to school.

Well you do have to think about what happens if one of the parents wants or needs to move far enough away that if the kid is with them 50% of the time then they'd have to be constantly switching between two schools (or being homeschooled 50% or 100% of the time). The point to discussing it now is that you don't both assume something different and then have a huge issue when the situation occurs when you both realise you've been preparing for different outcomes (like one of you is thinking "oh obviously they'd just stay with me 100% of term time" while the other thinks "well obviously we'd just switch to 100% homeschooling").

Seconding that living together for some amount of time (measured in months if not years) after birth would bring large benefits. Being the parent of a toddler, I would say being able to do alternate days of bedtimes (i.e. parent 1 does bedtime routine Monday, parent 2 Tuesday, 1 Weds, 2 Thurs, etc) is much better (less likely to exhaust you) than doing all the bedtimes yourself for 1 or 2 weeks or whatever time period. Consistency is better for the kids too - when the parents are in the same house, they can talk day to day about the kid's schedule and parenting issues and (in theory at least) produce a fairly smooth, consistent parenting experience for the kid. If the parents are apart then one parent is going to miss out on x period of the other parent refining the schedules and techniques for dealing with stuff (like, if I realise, hey, doing this specific thing stops the baby crying 50% of the time, I can immediately tell my partner because I live with them, and they can immediately try it out).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:07 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I personally don't know any children that enjoy being moved from house to house, sometimes on schedule, sometimes not. That lack of stability seems to really affect them. You might consider buying a house together that the child lives in and you and your co-parent rotate out of. Your guiding principle should be "is this in the best interest of the child?"
posted by saucysault at 8:14 AM on April 23, 2014 [21 favorites]

This previous question might be helpful.
posted by ellieBOA at 8:15 AM on April 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

If I were you, in the best interests of both parents and the child, I would handle this situation now, when everything is concretely amicable, in the same legal manner as handling an amicable divorce with a child present.

Legally binding custodial documents, guaranteed time with child, provisions against moving out of state (or mile range) without amendment to contract, child support, etc., are all things which are commonly handled and already written up due to a preponderance of divorce proceedings.

I would contact a divorce lawyer, let him know your unique situation, and fire away with the "standard" contracts which are used where there is no significant dispute.

This will likely cover everything you can think of, and most things you can't.
posted by Debaser626 at 8:15 AM on April 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

Tax issues
What will happen if you wind up with a significant income disparity
Life insurance
Realistic plan for shared physical custody in the early months/years. You didn't ask for feedback on your choice, but I will say that you should do your homework and think long and hard about potential sharing arrangements and how these may affect your child's emotional and psychological well-being.
posted by drlith at 8:21 AM on April 23, 2014

People have given you good advice above. Children require a lot of... gear and it might be worth making sure the two of you are on the same page as far as what gear will be duplicated and what will belong to "the child" and move around if the child is moving around (I'd also seriously consider the saucysalt "child's house" option). So things like

- bedroom/crib/sleep stuff/baby monitor
- car seats/high chairs/door gates/pack and play stuff
- holiday stuff/vacation stuff/pets

Would all be things that living-together parents would have one set of, divorced parents would probably have two sets of and you should make sure you're on the same page as far as whether you each have to invest in all this stuff. And the legal agreements surrounding whose kid the kid is (for taxes, insurance, schooling) need to be worked out within the laws of your country or state and may be very fiddly and/or counterintuitive. Make sure you understand the different ramifications as far as legal and physical custody and what might happen if either of you married someone else who wasn't on board with some of your more casual agreements.
posted by jessamyn at 8:22 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

You've probably already considered that you should consult with a family lawyer. (You should.) I would also think about sitting down for an hour with a child-rights expert, someone like an experienced and reputed guardian ad litem in your area, to pick their brain. And I'd do the same with a good family therapist in your area—especially regarding what may happen as years pass and (your, your friend's, the child's) emotions evolve. In each case I'd suggest you pay for an hour of their time. AskMe is great for what it is, but what you're proposing deserves expert input. I presume that if you can afford to do what you're proposing, then you don't need to be convinced that you can also afford what it costs to be prepared. Good luck with your decision.
posted by cribcage at 8:31 AM on April 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have some old friends who did this successfully, they were lesbian and gay folks who were good friends; the men donated sperm to the women. The kids are pretty much grown now and doing very well. Have you considered how grandparents will fit into the child's life? Are any of the grandparents totally opposed to such an arrangement? Feel free to memail me if you want to know more about my friends.
posted by mareli at 8:40 AM on April 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

Birth/adoption of a child is a qualifying event for parents who have insurance through their employers (or an ACA exchange). If the parents have individual health plans (not family plan) the child will, by default, be insured through the oldest parent's insurance policy. You have 60 days from the date of the event (e.g. birth of child) to change your coverage.

You also need to talk about what you would do if the child were born severely disabled. What if genetic testing reveals a life-threatening disease? Or what about a disease that is doesn't threaten life but limits mental or physical capacity? What about a condition that risks the mother's life?
posted by fontophilic at 8:42 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are a lot, lot, lot of resources for co-parenting out there. My sister is raising her child in a parenting arrangement like this, and here are some things that have arisen that you may wish to consider:

1/ 50/50 custody is an agreed goal on a timeline, not a starting point. It is not feasible for a newborn, even less so a breast-fed infant. The father naturally found this enormously frustrating, and the mother then found it stressful. Early visits where dad was in fact visiting his own child were hard on everyone. It wasn't until he eased into taking her out for a couple of hours at a time, then for a day, then overnight that they really found their groove. Now my niece is three and they are travelling all over the place with dad.

2/ Boundaries. Dad wanted to drop by all the time because see above. Mom was fucking tired, hormonal, cranky and stressed and hated feeling like her home was an open house. Again, this created conflict.

3/ Money. Seriously, money. Kids come with a ton of shit you don't think much about until you are faced with them. My sister is an educator and is keen on pre-school, dance class and a music class on the weekend (I think). These are not strictly necessary expenses. They are a point of contention. What you think isn't really important may become important when your 3 year old falls in love with Angelina Ballerina and begs for ballet lessons!

4/ Vacations. Like I said, my sister is a teacher. She lives in NYC. There is a family farm with goats and kittens and ponds and all that fun crap in VT. She could easily spend her entire three month summer vacation in VT with my niece, except that totally does not work for dad because he a) doesn't live in VT and b) doesn't get three months off. This is complicated, makes sharing custody complicated, and causes resentment for both parents as there is no great resolution. Whatever your vacation situation, this will arise.

I personally don't know any children that enjoy being moved from house to house, sometimes on schedule, sometimes not.

My best friend and her partner have raised their son in two households. He is the best 15 year old I've ever known. I would amend this statement to note that no children enjoying being moved from adversarial house to adversarial house, but if your parents are solid, this style of parenting can work and work well.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:49 AM on April 23, 2014 [7 favorites]

(Sorry, point of clarification: now that she is three, my niece does overnights and travels with her dad -- they just spent three or four days in CA for a family event, for example. I am not sure but I think the goal for true 50/50 is age 5.)
posted by DarlingBri at 8:57 AM on April 23, 2014

I'm thinking of things that I thought were settled during custody negotiations but then my ex decided to scrap everything and disappear and put a lot of pressure on me:

*life insurance; ensuring that the other parent HAS to provide the child with a policy and clear legal recourse if the parent changes the beneficiary to exclude the child;

*vacations; when the child is school age, who supervises school breaks, who decides what if any camps, who arranges summer plans and pays for it, who takes the child for weekly school breaks;

*holidays like long weekends;

*minor illnesses but the child needs to stay at home, so who takes off from work when the kid gets sick and does the sick child have to be transported from one house to another;

*medical and dental procedures and do both parents need to agree to everything (I'm thinking which hospital, which pediatrician, does the kid get braces and/or tooth extractions or does the parent need a second opinion and who pays for that);

* what happens when a parent gets sick during their visitation and the other parent has plans they can't change?
posted by kinetic at 9:10 AM on April 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do you have knowledge of family law as practiced in your area?

Afaik, a judge can undo any number of agreements between you. You both need local counsel.

Inheritance--ensure the child inherits the same as any future children.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:11 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm co-parenting my son. We have 50/50 shared custody with his bio-mom, and her personally being difficult and irrational aside, co-parenting it is very difficult at times. I love my kid more than air and never would I ever trade being his step-mom for being able to lead a significantly less complicated life, but it IS hard. Different expectations, different rules, different beliefs of what is and isn't acceptable. It is deeply frustrating knowing that she just plops him in front of a TV, won't let him play outside (because she can't be bothered to watch him), feeds him junk food and no vegetables, and she sends him to bed with an iPad because she again just can't be bothered to read to him. A lot of what goes on at her house we disagree with, but there is NOTHING we can do. Plus, the kid is seven years old and everyone is very aware that he prefers our home and wants to stay with us full time. His bio-mom even said that she knows he hates it there, but she refuses to hand off custody to us.

I guess what I am trying to say that you need to establish NOW how you are going to handle differences in opinion.
- Is it a "When the kid is at my house I get to do what I want" or is it "We need to jointly decide and enforce the same rules at both households"?
- What are you going to do if at a young age the child is clearly preferring one household over the other? Are you going to accommodate the kids wishes or are you going to continue to do split custody?
- What happens if you and your friend have a falling out? Or if one of you dates/marries someone who doesn't want a kid or doesn't like your kid?
- What if one of you gets an absolutely incredible once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in a different city? Is the other person obligated to move with them? How would split custody work then?
- What if one of you is adamant that the kid is fed only organic foods, but the other parent wants to take the kid out for the occasional Happy Meal because that is something their parent used to do with them and it is a good memory and something they want to share with their child. Who has to give on that?
- How much communication between you and your child will there be when you DON'T have custody of them? (We have a system that every night our son calls the other parent's household to say goodnight so that we speak to him at least once every day. It works, but it requires always being available at 7:30pm, which isn't always easy.)
- How are you going to handle changes in the custody schedule? What if you are supposed to have custody of the kid this weekend but hey, there is this work meeting you have to go to. Does the other parent have to change all their plans? Are you on the hook to find a baby sitter?
- How are you going to decide upon extracurriculars, not just in terms of WHAT but how they are going to be paid for? What if one of you wants the kid to be in weekly swimming lessons but the other person isn't able to take the kid to those lessons on the week that they have them?
- What about discipline? What if one feels the other is too stern or too lax?

Basically, you need to go through all the "what if" scenarios and through all the scenarios where the two of you AREN'T getting along in case that ever happens. You need a legal document drawn up, same as if you were a couple divorcing with children, where a lot of these things are both agreed upon, IN WRITING, and therefore enforceable. Hope that it will all work out smoothly (and it very well might) but you MUST, for the sake of the child, have all your ducks in a row in case it isn't so smooth after all.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:13 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Babysitting and daycare.

Private versus public school and who pays for what.

Family dynamics. Aunts uncles grandparents and possible half siblings.

Also just teaching and disciplining a child. Time outs? Spanking ? Foreign languages ? Religious teaching ? When she's older what about sex? Stances on birth control ? Crafts and outside activities? How do you vet play dates ? Clothing choices ( for example I'd never let any child of mine wear a bikini before being a teen...I find this to be a BIG deal but it's just me). Ear piercings at young age or circumcision? Vaccination opinions? Medical care: hospital preferences. Emergency care situations (like you get into a car accident and he needs to take the kid for two weeks unannounced). The list is long and you will never think of everything. Both of you being able to compromise, listen and communicate effectively in the moment is a must.
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:15 AM on April 23, 2014

Also remember that an agreement means nothing without a mechanism by which it can be enforced, so consider ensuring that the parent who does not follow the agreement is the one who's on the hook for legal costs, if that is actually possible in your jurisdiction.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:16 AM on April 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh, and talk NOW about how costs are going to be split. Will it be 50/50 or will it be proportionate to each of your salaries?
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:20 AM on April 23, 2014

Take a moment and think about the kid when he or she turns 13, and decides that he or she hates you and wants to stay with the other parent. Is your friend someone who will take advantage of this or will you be able to stay together as a unified front? Imagine the child at age 5 trying to explain to a new friend the living situation. Imagine the child that you are trying to create and really think about if this is the situation that a child would want to be in.

Another thing, no legal agreement is binding. And if you disagree on something to the point that it goes to court, you lose all control over the situation. The outcome is unpredictable. Life is unpredictable. You are your friend could flake or lose a job, or marry someone awful. And there isn't anything legally that you can do that will absolutely protect your rights as a parent.
posted by myselfasme at 9:25 AM on April 23, 2014

I want to repeat what fontophilic said about considering how you would handle a child with a disability, whether it’s identified before birth, after birth, or sometime later in life. I know from experience that it is not possible for both parents to work with some high-needs kids even if they don’t technically have disabilities… daycares often won’t keep infants that cry ALL DAY, for example. If it came to that, who would stay home with the child, and how would the other parent support him or her? What if you had different opinions about institutionalization or special schools?
posted by metasarah at 9:26 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Imagine the child at age 5 trying to explain to a new friend the living situation.

This can be a problem with which school or school district the child can attend. My niece's dad lived in city A, mother in city B, and grandmother in city C. She was attending school in city C since she spent 3 or 4 days/week in city C. The question came up about where she lived ( at age 6, in a classroom) and she said my daddy lives ...etc. and she was booted out of the school because by their definition she didn't "live in" city C.
posted by Gungho at 9:41 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

The child is in 1st grade and at school and throws up. Who should the school call to come pick the kid up?
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:13 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Parenting is a constant negotiation of the most mundane of issues ("Put a long-sleeve on him, it's cold out" "But it's supposed to be hot in a couple of hours, he'll be fine in a short-sleeve" "I think he's getting too much milk, I want to switch him to soy" "Soy is bad, he needs regular milk to build good muscle tone" "He needs a bath tonight" "He doesn't need a bath tonight, he had a bath last night" etc etc etc etc).

The thing is, married couples generally have had a while to work out how they resolve these small every day conflicts. If you haven't lived together you haven't had this practice; you've both been two individuals who have had final authority and control over the decisions you've made. When you suddenly have to negotiate every. single. decision. you make, that's how resentment is born.

I'm quoting myself there from the previous question that ellieBOA linked to. I would highly highly suggest some joint sessions for you and your friend with a therapist, to see how the two of you will do in negotiating conflicts, big and small.

In fact, I would say both of you should fill out a marriage counseling questionnaire, and then see how your assessment turns out. If you can negotiate with each other well, you should be good to go. If you find out that you just can't see eye-to-eye on things that are non-negotiable for either one of you, I would walk away. It's a small investment of time and money to determine the future of this potential innocent little person.

Best of luck.
posted by vignettist at 12:37 PM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would speak to a family law lawyer about this. It's likely that they'll have more experience with divorces, but many of the same custody issues apply. Not only would they have experience with the kinds of issues that need to be addressed, but they also would be able to draw you up a proper contract outlining you and your partner's agreements on those issues. A legal contract, signed by me and my partner and anybody else who might be involved, is something I would absolutely want to have if I were you.

Also, why not just get married at the courthouse and then never speak of yourselves as being married? A marriage of convenience would simplify things, since custody is part of the big bundle of legal rights and responsibilities that comes with legal marriage.
posted by Scientist at 4:50 PM on April 23, 2014

A marriage of convenience would simplify things, since custody is part of the big bundle of legal rights and responsibilities that comes with legal marriage.

This may be true in some jurisdictions but not in any that I am knowledgable about. Marriage is helpful for establishing paternity/maternity of the non birth giver, but it's a rare case where there isn't another similarly simple way to do this.

The legal elements of your question are jurisdiction dependent and fact specific. IAAL IANYL TINLA. You should retain a lawyer whose expertise, research, and experience you trust. You should tell that lawyer where you are each living now, all the places you reasonably expect you may move or travel to in the future, all the people in your lives who might think they ought to have a stake in this potential kid's life, and you should pay that lawyer to draft recommendations for you both for establishing maternity/paternity, protecting your rights and the child's rights, and creating fair functional agreements with the greatest likelihood of being enforceable (like a prenup for a family project). Do this again if you move.

I am all for nontraditional family creation (it's one of my favorite parts of my practice). This is a great time for paying for an ounce of prevention and doing this right. Another general principle I tell people is that you should never enter into an element of family creation with someone unless you trust and respect them so much that you feel you don't need a contract, AND, you should never ever actually do it without good legal advice and contracts.
posted by Salamandrous at 6:01 AM on April 25, 2014

« Older Moto X or Galaxy S5?   |   Do you have any advice on living in State College... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.