Family lawyers are increasingly encountering a certain category of relationships that appear to be unaccounted for in law. Polyamory is a relationship which is not confined to two partners, but rather can vary in terms of scope, commitment, and permanence. The number of possible arrangements are numerous, and can range from a simple, closed triangle of three partners, to a complex, fluid web of relationships that shift and vary in seriousness. While many engaged in polyamorous relationships tend not to bother putting it on the legal books, interesting challenges can arise when partners to such an arrangement decide to seek legal officiality. Matters can also be complicated if one or more children result from a polyamorous relationship. Although little data exists, it is estimated that roughly 1 in 500 in the United States identify as polyamorous, but this contrasts with the number of family lawyers that have encountered polyamory in their professional field: between one third and a quarter, which may indicate that demand for legal services in this unique field are particularly high.
The Gap in Legal Coverage
If both of these aforementioned figures are accurate, then this discrepancy indicates that a shortage of legal services exist specializing in the kind of family law that would meet the needs of this demographic engaged in a diverse range of relationships. This unmet legal need runs the risk of allowing Canadians to fall through the cracks of family law. Despite being few in number currently, approximately four-fifths of Canadians recognize that this number is growing, and a similar proportion agree that polyamory is becoming more publicly acceptable, which means that this service gap will only grow wider as time goes on unless more family lawyers begin to recognize the business opportunity it represents.
Above: several common kinds of polyamorous relationship configurations.
The Intricacies of Polyamory in Family Law
The complexities of polyamorous legal needs are dizzying. Imagine, for example, an open ‘triad’ type relationship where at the centre lie three partners all committed to each other, though each is free to pursue other relationships of varying seriousness. In such an arrangement, how are benefits to be determined? How is annual income tax to be calculated? In the writing of wills, how will an executor be agreed upon? If a child is born to the triad, as was the case in C.C. (Re) 2018 NLSC 71, who can be considered its parents? In many provinces, the possibility of a child having more than two parents is not considered at all. Lastly, if a separation occurs, how much and to whom shall child support be paid, if applicable? Not to mention the tangle of determining what percentage of custody each parent bears. The ability of the legal profession to answer these questions undoubtedly will rely on no small degree of creativity and fresh interpretations of old laws. Regardless of what enfolds in the Canadian court context in this niche field, it is bound to be interesting.
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