What legal challenges do polyamorous families face?

Posted by Josh Valentine | Apr 16, 2021

An increasing number of Americans are choosing to build families outside of the heterosexual nuclear family model. While there is a growing understanding in the US that families exist in all forms, policymakers in many states have yet to catch up. Non-monogamous families face a series of unique challenges, beginning with the fact that in North Carolina, only two people can be legally married, and a child can only have two legal parents. 

Legal issues in polyamorous relationships

The limit on marrying more than one person can have important implications for polyamorous families. Unmarried individuals can find themselves in a precarious legal position. Without the protections that come with marriage, should the relationship end, there is no guarantee of financial support, parental rights, or access to any children.

Not having the legal recognition of marriage can create issues, even if you do stay together. If a partner needs hospital treatment, their cohabiting partner may not have any rights to see or make decisions for them. Should the worst happen, and they pass away, there will be no automatic rights or provision.

It's important to face these questions about what would happen in the worst of times. Fortunately, you can take a number of steps to reassure your loved ones.

Living wills, health care proxies, and hospital visitation documents are extremely important steps to ensure that partners are not excluded from hospital care. Estate planning is crucial for polyamorous families who want to make their own financial arrangements rather than rely on automatic inheritance laws that may not truly reflect their family setup. You may want to explore real estate agreements laying out the co-ownership of property. Or you may want a more holistic cohabitation agreement that will lay out financial obligations between partners and ensure a scheme of support for financially weaker partners should the relationship end.

Legal issues for polyamorous parents

Under North Carolina law, married couples automatically have parental rights. Unmarried couples, however, have to take steps to establish paternity, and there is no third-parent adoption in North Carolina. This can make it very difficult to establish a third partner's parenting roles and rights in a polyamorous family.

When it comes to children, clarity is crucial. You must discuss the roles of your partners in your children's life. You need to clarify expectations regarding financial contributions, childcare, and discipline. It is also important to be clear on who has a say in the major decisions about education, religion, or healthcare.

While parenting agreements are not legally binding in North Carolina, families can benefit greatly from clear communication, an experienced lawyer's guidance, and a written, formal agreement.

Other Concerns

Polyamorous individuals and families can be vulnerable to social stigma.  This can be a particular concern for parents entangled in custody proceedings or saddled with employers and landlords who may not understand your family setup. When facing these difficulties together, your family must communicate in an open and supportive way with each other.

Experienced North Carolina Family Law Attorneys

Schedule a consultation with our compassionate and caring attorneys who can guide you through ways to safeguard your family life. If you live near the Shelby or Gastonia areas of North Carolina, give us a call at 704-470-2440 or contact us online today.

About the Author

Josh Valentine

You could say Josh has a God-given ability for sustaining long-term relationships. He and his wife first met in elementary school and went to Gardner Webb University (GWU) together, where they tied for number 1 in their class. Then, they both started law school on the same day of their graduation and got married during their first semester. He has also known his law partner Blake Caulder since Kindergarten. Theirs is the perfect partnership. “He’s the brake; I am the accelerator,” Josh says. Both Josh and his wife attended an innovative program at Charlotte Law School that allowed them to complete law school in two years instead of the typical three. His wife graduated and passed the North Carolina bar at age 20, becoming one of the youngest attorneys in the state. He readily admits she’s smarter than him. Of course, Josh went on to pass the North Carolina State Bar himself and later the South Carolina State Bar. While in school, he was Associate Editor of the Law Review and received accolades like Phi Delta Phi International Legal Honor Society membership, Order of the Crown, Pro Bono Honors, CALI Awards (highest grade). In his career as a lawyer, he has been admitted to the United States Federal Court for the Western District of North Carolina, is a member of the American Association of Premier DUI Attorneys, and completed training for DWI Detection & Standardized Field Sobriety Testing. Josh has also been named to the Top 40 Under 40 for Criminal Defense by The National Trial Lawyers, the Business North Carolina 2019 Legal Elite for Criminal Defense, and the 10 Best Attorneys for Client Satisfaction by the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys three years in a row (2016, 2017, and 2018). Community involvement has been important to Josh all his life. In high school, he participated in building a Holocaust museum that has become internationally regarded. He and his wife are actively engaged in animal rescue, which currently means seven cats and two kittens. He served in prison ministry and assisted with fundraiser banquets there, and he provides pro bono and reduced fee legal services to those in need. As if all of that weren’t enough, Josh also mentors high risk youth and helps with his church’s youth group. He participates in other community volunteer projects involving construction, remodeling, drywall, painting, and landscaping. He’s an active student of the Bible and has traveled to Israel, Brazil, and Europe for mission work. No one can say Josh isn’t a well-rounded individual. In his spare time, he likes to play softball, basketball, and tennis, and he can play the piano and trombone. Sometimes on weekends, believe it or not, he enjoys pouring and finishing concrete with friends who own a concrete and grading business. In his law practice, Josh has made it a point to develop positive relationships with officers, clerks, and district attorneys, which has proven invaluable in delivering positive results for his clients. It’s important to him to both listen to his clients and fight for them. Law enforcement officers have important responsibilities to keep our communities safe and uphold the law, but one of the responsibilities of attorneys is to make sure officers do their job correctly. Josh considers it his job to hold them accountable for their actions. Josh is a person of deep faith. He knows that the established order of our universe and strength of America’s Judeo-Christian influenced court system is built on God’s word. His passion to serve each client with innovation, excellence and integrity is a byproduct of his faith. When asked why he became a lawyer, Josh says, “All through my life, I have personally witnessed family members and very close friends endure divorce, child custody battles, bankruptcy, civil lawsuits, and even fraudulent criminal accusations. I both saw and experienced the stress such events can place on an individual, and I realized that everyone, at some point in their life, needs hope, comfort, and encouragement. In each one of those situations, the person who was best situated to provide that vital support was their lawyer. So that’s why I became an attorney. I understand what you are going through, and I’m here to help you. Our office is focused on meeting your needs and guiding you through what may be the most difficult time of your life.” Education: Charlotte School of Law J.D., Magna Cum Laude Class Rank – 21 of 328 Associate Editor of Charlotte School of Law Law Review Certification and Concentration in Employment Law Phi Delta Phi International Legal Honor Society Order of the Crown Pro Bono Honors CALI Awards (Highest Grade)—Lawyering Process I and Contracts I Full Scholarship Gardner-Webb University B.S. in Accounting, Summa Cum Laude Distinguished Senior Student Award – Highest GPA Alpha Sigma Lambda National Honorary Society Bar Admissions: North Carolina State Bar