Just when I thought I had handled cases involving every possible riff on the concept of marriage, I found out I’m wrong. To date, I’ve missed polyamory. Or at least the open, admitted-to variety. I’ve certainly heard from clients about affairs which are ongoing and implicitly accepted, actually a pretty traditional model for men of means and power throughout recorded history. But this is different.
Polyamory involves a group of people who have sexual or romantic relationships with one another with every member’s knowledge and consent. (Best new word learned this year: a “moresome,” if the group is more than four.) This doesn’t sound easy, and apparently it’s not. According to a panel at the American Psychological Association meeting in Philly last week, polyamorous people talk a lot about rules and boundaries concerning time spent with other lovers.
I’ll bet they do. They need them. And nobody knows that like a divorce lawyer. Suppose a polyamorous group of four buys a house together and then things go south. It’s hard enough to navigate financial issues between two people who used to sleep together; add two more to the mix and it becomes a firestorm. Now there will be four people who all want the others to move out, four people who want the dog and the orange Le Creuset pot, and four people who disagree over how to divide up the bank accounts.
Is this new? Can’t be, since nothing involving human nature is. It’s probably just new that people talk openly about it. Apparently it dovetails with a statistical decline in dedication to monogamy. Close to one-third of all lesbian and unmarried straight couples, and almost half of all gay couples, are not monogamous. And married people are not far behind – about one-fifth of them say they’ve “cheated.” But this is a different variation, of course; cheating means there were rules you knew about and chose to break. The rules of the game for a polyamorous group don’t prohibit sex with others. Presumably, they just regulate the conditions under which it can happen.
What does this mean for kids? On the up side, it means they are likely to have more adults intimately involved in their daily lives. On the down side, it means they could experience losses if those connections shift or dissolve. And the potential for horrendous custody litigation looms over child and parent alike: each member of the group surely knows that he or she does not want to end up on a witness stand trying to explain polyamory to a family court judge.
Turns out a lawyer in my firm has already written a custody agreement for a client who lives in a polyamorous household with this configuration: lesbian couple, consisting of biological and non-biological moms, and boyfriend of biological mom (who may or may not be father of child). All very happy together.
I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before I get asked to draft a cohabitation agreement for a member of a polyamorous group, or to negotiate the dissolution of one. I love dealing with new family configurations. I’ll be ready.