GEM Feb 2016 Parent-Partner with Border

Better, Not Bitter:
Parent-Partner Legal Status is a Bad Idea


The latest buzz from a co-parenting legal perspective is the proposed “Parent-Partner” legal status for co-parents – whether married and now divorcing or on-marital relationships that are ending. Developed by University of Oregon law professor Merle Weiner’s in his “A Parent-Partner Status for American Family Law.”

The idea is that there would be a court-enforced agreement that covers the two parents relationship in regard to each other as co-parents. This is different from child support or custody. This is about how the two people who were formerly in a relationship will treat one another after the demise of that relationship. But it will be court-enforceable.

Hmm, not sure how I feel about that. I think we have enough court ordered requirements post-relationship regarding children as it is. But I understand the idea of trying to ensure that people do the right thing so the kids are as non-dysfunctional as possible. But do we really need a law?

Here are the five “core legal obligations” as copied from the Parent-Partners website:

1. An Obligation to Give Aid.

The first obligation would require a parent to aid a parent-partner when the parent-partner is physically imperiled and it is reasonable to lend aid. A remedy for the failure to aid would exist in tort law, as it does now for spouses.

2. An Obligation Not to Physically or Psychologically Abuse.

The second obligation would require each parent-part not to abuse the other. Law reform would entail several components. First, statutes should name parent-partners as eligible petitioners for civil protection orders and extend eligibility to expectant couples. Second, psychological abuse (without accompanying physical abuse) should qualify a victim for a civil protection order. Third, the civil protection order should allow the victim to have contact, albeit non-abusive contact, with the other parent if the victim so desires. Finally, a new crime should exist for the physical abuse of a parent-partner.

3. An Obligation of Relationship Work.

The obligation of relationship work would arise at the transition to parenthood and at the demise of the romantic relationship. The obligation would encourage parents to attend counseling or an educational program designed to strengthen their relationship. While a court could not order a reluctant party into counseling, a court could require the reluctant parent to attend an educational session on the benefits of relationship work.

4. An Obligation of Fair Dealing When Contracting.

The heightened obligation of fair dealing would apply when parent-partners contract with each other to alter the background law that would otherwise govern their family relationship, typically when parents enter or enforce a premarital agreement, post-marital agreement, or cohabitation agreement. A parent-partner who wanted to enforce an agreement at the end of the romantic relationship would have to demonstrate that the parties voluntarily entered into the agreement (there was no duress or fraud, for example), that certain disclosures were made, and that at the time of enforcement the agreement was substantially fair.

5. An Obligation to Give Care or Share.

This obligation would require the parents to share equally the responsibility of providing their child with physical care. A parent who incurred an unfairly disproportionate amount of the caregiving work would be entitled to a judicial remedy for compensation.

I am all in favor of numbers 1 and 2, but the others, I am not so sure would be right for everyone. But my primary issue with the whole idea is the legal ramifications. I am concerned that we already have enough issues post-relationship that drive people to the courts. And there are some people that are concerned about the impact the court issue could raise for low income people.

I applaud Dr. Weiner’s goals for Parent-Partners to encourage co-parenting and give children “stable parental relationships.” I wish we could figure a way to accomplish the goal without making non-compliance a legal issue. I mean do we need more reason for fining and jail could impact a non-complaint parent? That would probably take them further away from a good relationship with the child which is goal after all.

What do you think about the Parent-Partner proposal?