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Tri-Custody: Shared Custody with Three Parents

Clarkston Legal April 15, 2017

What Is Tri-Custody?

Shared custody arrangements often arise in some non-traditional families. For example, a tri-custody arrangement is a child custody arrangement between three people: a father, his wife and the biological mother of the minor child.

Here in Michigan, the applicable child custody statutes narrowly tailor the rights of third parties to minor children. An open question at common law is where a non-biological parent, a mother-figure, has standing to bring a shared custody cause of action.

Strange Case in a New York Family Court.

In a case from Suffolk County, New York, plaintiff, the non-biological, non-adoptive “parent” sought tri-custody of a 10-year old boy. She helped raise the boy with his father, her husband. You might wonder how folks get into such unconventional relationships.

A bench trial demonstrated that a married couple invited one of Wife’s friends to move into their home. Over time, they became a sexually active threesome.

The trio lived as a family unit, planned and had a child with the wife’s friend serving as the biological mother. This arrangement seemed like a reasonable solution to wife’s infertility.

When it all blew-up, wife and her friend tired of husband, and moved-out with the minor boy. Wife then sued husband for divorce.

Somewhere along the way, the wife’s friend brought a custody action against the husband. Her claim was resolved by a joint custody arrangement featuring the boy living with the two women -who remained together- and having liberal parenting with his father.

Family Court Endorses Two Moms and A Dad.

Eventually, wife sued for a portion of the available custody. Wife asserted she wanted a ruling from the family court to protect her in case neither her long-time friend [and now partner] or her ex-husband would allow her to see the boy or to stay in his life.

The family court judge was persuaded by evidence that during the first 18 months of the boy’s life, all three adults taught the boy that he had three parents; a dad and two moms. Each of the three adults held themselves out as a family unit.

In addition, wife asserted that she was allowed by father and the biological mother to serve as a co-equal parent. This was the family arrangement to which the boy had become accustomed.

The family court found that the shared custody arrangement, with contact between all three parents, would serve the boy best in the long run. In granting wife’s request for shared custody, the court noted that evidence clearly established the boy’s need for a continuing relationship with wife; that relationship should not be dependent on the whims or the consent of father or wife’s friend.

Does a Parent Figure Have Standing to Sue for Shared Custody?

The family court judge concluded the shared custody arrangement was consistent with New York’s marital equality law. Here in Michigan, wife’s standing is a case of first impression.

If you or a family member face an unusual custody challenge, contact our law firm to schedule a free consultation.