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.
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.