Tri-Parenting: Advantages, Pitfalls and Challenges


Tri-parenting is an arrangement among three people who agree to raise a child together. As social norms evolve, same-sex parents and multi-parent families are changing the traditional notion of family. In order to accommodate these new family structures, the law is evolving as well. 

In 2016, the term “tri-parenting” was introduced to the public during a New Jersey case involving a same-sex married couple and a female friend. The three decided to conceive and raise a child together, and the woman was impregnated with the sperm of one of the men. After the child was born, the family lived in the mother’s home until the two men got their own place.

The threesome co-parented effectively until the woman fell in love with a man who lived in California, and announced that she wanted to relocate with the child. The two men went to court to petition for sole legal and physical custody.

One of the factors complicating the case was the fact that the primary caretaker was not a legal parent – a person who carries, adopts, or is biologically related to a child. However, the court eventually ruled that he was a “psychological parent” based on his bond with the child, and it was in the child’s best interest to remain with this parent. The couple was therefore ordered to share legal and residential custody with the mother, whose request to move with the child was denied.

Tri-Parenting Pitfalls

While tri-parenting is a great option for couples that can’t conceive on their own, it’s a far more complex endeavor than starting a two-parent family. Before embarking on a tri-parenting journey, it’s crucial to anticipate potential pitfalls, the most common being divorce, remarriage, and relocation. The three parents in the previous scenario could have avoided going to court if they’d had a written agreement detailing what would happen in the case of a major life event.

Tri-Parenting Challenges

Hiring a family law attorney to craft a “preconception agreement” can ensure that all three parents are on the same page before a child is conceived. The agreement should detail the following: 

  • The parents agree to raise the child together.
  • The parents share responsibilities for the child.
  • The parents agree on parenting styles and ways to provide consistency among households.

In the case of divorce, remarriage, or relocation, the agreement should also outline:

  • Physical and legal custody
  • Child support
  • Medical and school choice: who decides?

Tri-Parenting Advantages

Despite its pitfalls and challenges, tri-parenting offers advantages to traditional parenting. Three parents, plus three extended families and social networks, creates a richer “village” for the child and support for the parents raising that child. 

Learn More: 

Complex Child Custody: How is Tri-Parenting Awarded?

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