Rachel Hope wanted a child. Problem was, she had no husband but did not want to raise a child on her own. Fearing a childless life and unwilling to wait until she found a spouse, Hope opted for a new and increasingly popular middle option called co-parenting.
Co-parenting occurs when two people (or three, or four, or more) agree to have and raise a child together — no marriage necessary, no romance intended. Co-parents can be a heterosexual couple, a homosexual couple with a third-party partner, two couples together, or any other combination the modern mind can conceive of.
In Hope’s case, she had her first child, Jesse, with a co-parent, Glenn, 23 years ago. She now has a second child — six-year-old Grace — with a man named Paul and is looking to find a third man to co-parent the next child.
“I used to be this weird lady trying to do this parenting partnership for 15 years. Now I’m meeting so many people who are ready to be parents and want to do it in this different way,” Hope tells me.
In order to find the future father of her third child, Hope is using a website called Modamily — one of a growing number of websites devoted to helping people find that “perfect” match for a parenting partner.
“It’s kind of like an OkCupid or Match.com site, but we use a compatibility quiz for a completely different purpose,” Modamily founder Ivan Fatovic says. “You can find someone who is like-minded and shares your most important criteria for how you want to raise a child.”
Modamily has grown from a small operation on a shoestring budget in 2012 to a website with 6,000 users, who have made dozens of connections. Though the site has only been around for two years, there is already one child born out of a connection made online.
However, it’s hard to keep tabs on the exact number of people who have become co-parents through the site, Fatovic tells me. Once connections are made and people exchange personal contact information they connect with each other offline. “We just make the connections and give guidelines for how to proceed in the most responsible way, but in the end people are going to do what they want,” Fatovic says.
Though Rachel Hope is now using Modamily to find her third co-parent, she is one of the pioneers of this new type of family. “As far as I know, I invented co-parenting,” Hope says. “I even wrote a book about it.”
She currently lives with Paul, the father of her second child, in Los Angeles, and she is actively using Modamily to find yet another co-parent for another child. When I asked how it would work out having another co-parent when she is already co-parenting a six-year-old daughter with another man, Hope said that she looks forward to having all of the parents living together, or at least living nearby each other.
“The child needs to be with both parents as much as possible,” she says. “I recommend people stay in the same household, or at least a very short walk away from each other, because it is best for the child.”
She doesn’t foresee any difficulty in having one unmarried woman with two children by two different fathers in one house. Instead, she thinks having another father in the house could be very beneficial.
“They say it takes a village, and we’re finding that that’s true,” she says. “Now it’s tricky because I not only have to find a match, but I have to find a match who also works with my family.” Lucky for her, the new “candidates” seem more than amenable to the prospect. “They all view it as a lighter distribution of responsibility. It’s a bonus,” she says.
Such familial constructs are not without their complications, though. One of the many unknowns is how the law will govern these novel families of various shapes and sizes.
I spoke with Fred Silberberg, a family-law attorney whose legal services Fatovic recommends to Modamily users. “Because the people are not married and are choosing to have a child, they don’t have the legal presumptions of a married couple,” Silberberg tells me. “If an unmarried couple has a child, the father isn’t automatically determined to be a legal father.”
So Silberberg helps couples properly document who the father is at the time the child is being conceived so that the father has legal rights.
He also helps parents draft co-parenting agreements, which details custody arrangements and the specifics of how the parents will raise the child, what the living arrangements will be, who will take responsibility for what financial obligations, and more. Co-parenting agreements are not necessarily binding, but in the event of a separation, a custody battle, or the like, the original intent of the co-parents can inform a judge’s decision.
“This entire area of people coming together in this way is something that is new and something that isn’t really legally tested,” Silberberg says. “People are doing this with the best of intentions and are informed, at least by me, that they are doing it at their own risk.”
One of Silberberg’s biggest worries is that couples he sees aren’t planning on living together. “I don’t know that it’s better to have people be married, but it’s better to live together and know each other,” he says. “Most people do not live together. It’s like a child being born into an instant but hopefully amicable divorce situation.”
Compounding this worry is the fact that many of these co-parents don’t know each other well enough, hurriedly having children while still near-strangers. “Some of these people are worried about their proverbial biological clocks ticking and they hastily get into these agreements without thinking through the ramifications,” he says. “This situation has the potential to turn rather ugly.”
It was this exact worry about her biological clock that pushed Rachel Hope into co-parenting for a second time when she was unable to find a husband but still wanted more children. “I felt my clock ticking, so I decided to co-parent with Paul, my son Jesse’s godfather,” she says.
I asked if she thought it would be preferable to be married and have children, and she told me, “Nobody is disputing that having a marriage is the best outcome for kids, that it’s the best outcome for people. That’s what I believe God intended, for the most part.”
“But what about the rest of us who don’t meet that soulmate?” she says. “I feel you have a calling to be a parent, and if you have that calling and it doesn’t work out in a marriage, you can do that in a community.”
“I feel that it is a natural, God-given right to have a child,” she adds.
While Hope, like Silberberg, recommends that people get to know each other as much as possible before having a child together, that’s where her traditionalism ends. “The Church will say that I’m off track,” Hope says, acknowledging her Catholic faith. “And I say, ‘Okay, let’s talk about that. In the meantime, let’s also move forward.’”
This seems to be a common refrain: The world is changing, so the idea of marriage and parenting needs to catch up. When I spoke with Ivan, he cited a Pew Poll showing that while 52 percent of Millennials think parenthood is one of their most important life goals, only 30 percent say marriage is. His site exists in part to reconcile those conflicting goals.
But Rachel Hope’s admission that these are inferior family constructs suggests co-parents avoid the essential responsibility of a parent: putting the child’s interest above other considerations — even something as urgent as the desire to have a baby.
— Alec Torres is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.