Gigi Higham was 30 years old when she first considered the possibility of having a child with a gay friend if, when the time came, she didn’t have a partner. Even then, she shared the idea with her mother, who encouraged her to do so immediately. It was still early days for her, but the idea was still in the back of her mind. Seven years later, she had little Tomás with Saúl and Arnau, who are a couple and whom she had known for years. “It had always seemed like a good option to me and I saw it more and more clearly. In fact, I had a couple of partners who could have been the parents of my children, but I wasn’t sure if I had to stay with them because I wanted to be a mother and I had nothing better… because I did have something better: this idea”, she explains.
The family of Gigi, Saúl, Arnau and Tomás is not the most common, but it reflects the diversity of households and serves as an example of co-parenting, a family model in which two or more people decide to have and raise a child together without there being an affective-sexual relationship between all parties. This option also proposes a solution to a problem raised by the latest fertility survey of the National Institute of Statistics: the percentage of women who have not had children or more children because they have not found the right partner. The highest rates are between 40 and 44 years of age and among those under 30, with 9.7% of women. They are 7.2% among those who are 35 and 39 years old and would like to have more children.
“The idea of ‘romantic love’ has convinced society that one has to find a partner that works for everything: in terms of living together, day to day, sexual …. And it’s not that easy.
Diana Marre, an anthropologist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona and director of the AFIN group, which researches new family models and how to support them, explains to elDiario.es that the idea of ‘romantic love’ has convinced society “that one has to find a partner that works for everything: in terms of coexistence, day to day, sexual … And it’s not that easy. For this reason, he points out that on an anthropological level co-parenting is not “questioned at all”. “They are vital projects that have different characteristics,” says the expert, who points out that these family models, with different nuances, “have always existed”.
“We tend to think of them asnsar that the way we organize the family in the Christian West is the normal way, but there are two billion people out there doing it differently and there would be no reason to think they are the abnormal ones,” Marre continues. The expert cites anthropologist Margaret Mead, who in the first half of the 20th century studied Pacific cultures where “children circulate between different family units and women were not obliged to live with the father of their children. But you don’t have to travel to exotic places. In 2013, California, USA, enacted the three-parent law, which allowed a child to have more than two biological parents.
Arnau, from Catalonia, continues the story of his three-parent family. “My boyfriend and I have been together for ten years. During that time we had talked about having children, but as gay men we knew the options we had. Some friends had put themselves on lists to adopt, but it was a very long-term process and we didn’t see it as clear. We knew some guys who had used a surrogate, but it created a moral discussion. In the end the conversations stalled a bit, until we came to the conclusion that the cool thing to do would be to do it with a friend. For me it was a very remote option, because it is very difficult to find someone and we wanted it to be a friend, not a stranger,” she continues.
Finally, in one of those half-serious, half-joking conversations, Gigi said yes. She had lived in Berlin and already knew of a case of a co-parental family. From that moment on, the three of them began to spend more time together, to talk about what the process would be like, how they imagined this three-parenthood, to discuss timelines and how it would work. It was a process of about a year that took the form of a “letter of intent” in which they gathered those conversations, the motivations of the project of having a child between the three of them and the values they would like to instill in the child.
These types of agreements can range from the most basic, such as child support or the time to be spent in each house, to the most detailed, such as the type of school, but they are not legally binding.
These types of agreements can range from the most basic, such as child support or time spent in each house, to the most detailed, such as the type of school, for example. “We did it out of respect for the child and the project,” she says, who set three conditions: “Put my last name first, which is my mother’s; that the time with the child would never be divided among three, even if they separate; and that the expenses would be covered by the three of us.” “It’s the typical document between separated couples. We made it, but not as closed, because We know that a baby can demand different things,” explains Arnau, who jokes that their lawyer told them that “I wish all couples would draw up a similar agreement before having a child”.
Agreements without legal validity
In any case, they know that this document has no legal validity if discrepancies arise in the future. The member of the Spanish Association of Family Lawyers María Dolores López Muela explains: “They can agree, for example, that they want joint custody or that they are going to share the expenses, but all this has to be ratified by a judge when the baby is born and reviewed by the Public Prosecutor, because it involves minors, which is a matter of public order”. “It is true that this agreement is taken into account and if there is nothing against it, it is respected, but it can be fought in court and the judge is the one who decides,” continues the expert, who recommends contacting a specialized lawyer to draw up these agreements and, above all, “to know the responsibilities to which the future parents are subject”.
Responsibilities that are no different from those of parents in a conventional family except that, in the case of these two families, there are three people who are fathers or mothers of the same child. In Spain, the law only allows two people to exercise parental authority over a child. That is, he or she is their child in the eyes of the law. However, the third party in question would not be completely unprotected in case of disagreements. “If the couple separates, the one who has been the father or the mother but does not have the filiation could also ask for a visitation regime with the child, because the right of visitation belongs to the child and the child will want to see the person who has raised him or her,” explains López Muela.
In Spain, the law only allows two people to exercise parental authority over a child. That is, he or she is their child in the eyes of the law. However, the third party in question would not be completely unprotected in case of disagreements.
Alfonso, who has asked to use a fictitious name in this report, knows that these agreements are not law. He is currently involved in a legal battle with the mother of his son due to disagreements over the agreement they reached before the baby, who is now three years old, was born. He is also gay and had had the typical conversation with the mother of his son.A friend of mine: “If we don’t have a partner at 40, we have a child together. Most of the time, nothing happens at 40, and Alfonso was about to throw in the towel when he stumbled upon a website that connects people who want to have a child but aren’t looking for a partner.
The rise of co-parenting platforms
In recent years, this type of platform has proliferated in Spain and around the world. One of the most recent is Copaping, a Spanish website “with a global vocation”, according to its CEO and founder, David Reyes. It was launched this September, and already has more than 1,300 registered users, mainly single people, especially women, and LGTBI with structural infertility. “The objective is not to create sentimental relationships, but that people who want to be parents can get in touch to start a co-parenting project,” he explains.
The site allows you to create a profile with a description, search for other users by different characteristics and chat with them in an unlimited way until the second month. After that, you need to go for a premium option: it’s 39 euros for one month; 69 euros for six months; or 99 euros for a year. “We recommend that you contact each other and get to know each other. We believe that conversations should arise naturally and we insist that you have to make a previous reflection, establish the type of relationship you want to have between co-parents, sons and daughters and be accompanied by medical and legal responsible, “says Reyes.
The CEO of Copaping indicates to elDiario.es that from the company have sent a contribution to the new law of Family Diversity in which the Ministry of Social Rights is working, to recognize the multiparental families and co-parenting agreements between adults. Also the donation of altruistic gametes between people, something that in Spain is not allowed since donations must be anonymous.
In the same idea Luis Arroyo, the founder of Family4Everyone, another platform that has been operating since 2018, with about 2,000 users. In his case, his app has a test that facilitates that first approach between the parties interested in having a child without having a partner. “The coparental family type was very little spread in Spain and Latin America, so we emphasized to convey the message that, although it is different from the traditional one, it has similar purposes,” explains Arroyo of his beginnings. In her case, the platform also has a free option and a paid option, which allows you to send and receive information about your family.You can send unlimited messages, customize searches, view other users’ photos, save profiles, and check compatibility levels. One month of this subscription costs £7.99, three months costs £20.97 and six months costs £35.94.
“I met a couple of girls and a lesbian couple and finally the mother of my son, with whom there was chemistry on a human level, personality and with whom I fit very well,” says Alfonso in conversations with elDiario.es about his experience in one of these platforms. After three months of getting to know each other, they decided to have a baby together. They tried, first, with one of the insemination kits sold in pharmacies for a couple of months, but finally resorted to a clinic. In Spain, sperm donations within the system have to be anonymous, but these kits escape that restriction. In their case, no one at the clinic asked if they were a couple. “Everyone took it for granted,” says Alfonso.
In Alfonso’s case, with the passage of time and a disagreement over the city where the child should live, he and the mother had to go to court. “It started a legal fight that I liken to any divorce,” he says.
“During the pregnancy everything went very well and we were making plans together, with a lot of excitement. In the plan we had agreed that the child would be in my house from the third year, but at the beginning I was with them much more than we had planned. Since we got along very well, everything was very natural,” she explains. As time went by and a disagreement over the city where the child should live, the parents had to go to court. “It started a legal fight that I liken to any divorce,” Alfonso points out. “Other than that, I think both she and I are glad we opted for this solution. A legal fight is not pretty, but we are parents and I don’t think either of us regrets it,” he says.
“We didn’t want an anonymous donor”.
Juan, Elena and Alkmini have been friends for half a lifetime. He lives in Alcalá de Henares and they live with Pablo, the child the three have in common, in Berlin. “We always wanted to be two mothers, but we didn’t want an anonymous donor for our son, we wanted a real person we trusted and admired so that the child could have the advantage of having his own relationship with him,” Elena and Alkmini explain from the German capital. “I had never felt that I wanted to have a child until three years ago. I told them about it and they proposed this option to me,” adds Juan, who is now 50 years old.
They tried for a year, naturally -with the kit sold in pharmacies- and then by artificial insemination. One year and four months ago Pablo was born. “When you have a child, a lot of things change in your life, but there is no manual here. Everything is very new. Building a traditional family seems easier, but I think that all the problems and unknowns that you encounter are a bit the same,” explains this first-time father.
“We don’t make a lot of agreements, because you don’t do that when you have a child with your husband or your wife. We continue to function as we did when we didn’t have a child
In Juan’s case, Elena and Alkimi didn’t sign any documents. “I don’t know if we’ve been unconscious, but we didn’t agree on many things, because you don’t do it when you have a child with your husband or your wife either. We don’t have a visiting regime: I go when I want to, when I can and when it suits them. Now we have just spent two weeks together in Greece. We still function as we did when we didn’t have a child,” he explains. “One of the agreements is that I gave up my parental rights so that they could have them. They both wanted to be mothers regardless of who the biological mother was, and since the child lives with them in Berlin, it was easier that way for practical reasons. In our case, paternity is not so much legal, but real and emotional, although the legislation should be changed to adapt to the new realities”, she considers.
“Everyone does his or her part”.
“I proposed mixing the sperm, because I couldn’t choose who was going to be the father,” Gigi explains. Finally, the doctor recommended not to do it to increase the chances of getting pregnant and Arnau opted for the sperm to be that of his partner. “I got scared, out of fear or whatever, I offered Saul to be the biological father. That raised other problems, because if I’m not the biological father, what situation am I in,” he explains honestly. Because having a child usually generates fears and uncertainties that, in this equation, include a third person. For example, “how it will affect your partner or your relationship with your child,” recalls Arnau, who captured his experience as a father in pandemic through his work as an illustrator with a non-fiction comic and an instagram account with some of his vignettes in which he captures the realities he has been encountering in the process.
Gigi had, he says, “a wonderful pregnancy.” They had agreed that they would live a normal life until the end of the pregnancy and that she would then move in with the couple, where she stayed for almost a year after she was pregnant.he baby was born and, also, during the pandemic. Those first days with the baby all three had to manage an explosion of emotions. “I spent the first ten days crying in the corners. It’s not depression, but it happens to many women after giving birth. Besides, I’d gone from being the golden maiden to living with a child in the house of two gay men. Arnau also went through his own thing thinking about how to gain that security that we had (as biological parents), but between the three of us we knew how to manage it very well. The basic thing to get out of a situation like this is to do our part,” he explains.
Returning home, with 50/50 shared custody, had its tricky part. “You want to spend more time with him, but you have to go back to basics and remember that you also want him to be with them because they’re his parents and you want them to be his parents. If you don’t nurture that relationship, you’re throwing stones at yourself,” says Gigi, who also sees the upside of their model family. “At first you miss him, but then you start to see the benefits, that you can go out for drinks with friends or take a break. I never wanted to be a single mother and now I see why. When I’m alone with Tomás, if I visualize myself 24/7 I don’t like it at all. I prefer to rest and recover energy for when I’m with him. The kids know when you’re well and I’m well when I have time for me,” she explains. “It’s the best choice I’ve ever made,” she adds.
“A novel situation, but not that novel.”
The professor in sociology at the Carlos III University of Madrid, Constanza Tobío, explains that the idea of adults who cooperate in the upbringing of a minor without having a conjugal or affective-sexual relationship between them breaks with the established idea of conjugality and procreation. “They are two different phenomena, but they appear socially as inseparable,” she says. However, he points out that in recent decades a rupture has been observed between these phenomena. First, with procreation outside of marriage that causes an “absolute equalization of the children that are had outside of marriage with those from within”. And, in a second step, “with the organization of the upbringing of children in cases of separation or divorce, which is something similar,” he says.
Therefore, the professor sees in these family models “a new situation, but not so new”. In the case of a couple who have a child with another person, Tobío points to “a constellation of forms of upbringing that combine in different ways present or past couple relationships and cooperative relationships between adults for upbringing”. Throughout the conversations with the different experts who participate in this report, ideas emerge about family models that could fit into co-parenting and that are assumed in everyday life. “It’s not the same, but there is a similarity between a couple and a grandmother who takes care of them, or the families that after the civil war left their children in the care of their grandmothers. a child in the care of a relative because they had too many children and not enough money,” he says.
Along the same lines, Mar González, professor of psychology and researcher in family diversity at the University of Seville, says that the key is “in the quality of family life and not in the structure”. This quality, she explains, can be provided by “a single mother, a separated mother, two gentlemen who raise the grandchildren or two friends who commit themselves responsibly to the care of their children”. “I don’t have data to confirm that they are being good arrangements, but it doesn’t have to be a problem as long as the children’s lives are stable,” she says. “There are different family models today, but the important thing is that everyone can find their place and be treated with respect. In the end, the main thing should be a safe and balanced environment for the child,” Elena and Alkmini agree.
While doing this report, we have learned about other cases of co-parent families, mainly among gay and lesbian people, with adult children who have declined to participate with their testimony. “I think this needs to be said,” says Marre, “because it’s proof that people feel judged or feel they may be exposed to some kind of discrimination.”
In her book ‘Parents Like Everyone Else’, anthropologist Anne Cadoret studied several cases of lesbian couples having children with gay couples in France, where assisted reproduction was vetoed until this summer for women without male partners and same-sex couples were not allowed to adopt until 2013. Their conclusion was that the arrival of a baby generated tensions and disputes over parenting, but that these conflicts were similar to those between heterosexual couples.
“Not being a couple, we don’t allow ourselves certain things: we can’t fight, there is mutual respect and there is always an atmosphere of absolute peace. Maybe in the last year we’ve had two arguments.
“Are there going to be conflicts? Always. Also between them and if you bring in a third person, even more. But it’s normal, it’s life,” says Juan. “If we make ourselves interesting we can say that we are going to apply this or that to deal with them, but with a child you do things as best you can and know how. There is no manual and a couple is not asked how they are going to deal with conflicts in parenting,” he reasons. Gigi raises another question about her family: “Because we’re not a couple, we don’t allow ourselves certain things: we can’t fight, there’s mutual respect and there’s always an atmosphere of absolute peace. Maybe in the last year we’ve had two arguments.
To solve conflicts, she advocates generosity. “You can’t close yourself off and say ‘this or nothing’, because it can’t be ‘nothing’. You have to listen to the other person, let them listen to you, ask yourself what arguments you have to defend your idea, inform yourself and be generous with other people’s ideas and don’t think that your opinion is worth more than the rest. Otherwise, all is lost,” he explains. In addition, she points out that all three are supported by educational issues. If the child helps set the table in one house, if he dresses himself or how long he can watch TV are agreed dynamics that are repeated in the other.
“We love spending time together and we have the need to share with each other what is happening with our child. When something happens that has never happened before, the first thing you want to do is explain it to them and that’s great. We’ve always had it and always will. We are two family units, but we work as one,” adds Arnau. “Every few weeks we go on an outing or spend a weekend together. We try to take care of this common space”, he says, while pointing out that “communication is very important”.
“Some colleagues have told us that we are revolutionaries,” says Arnau, “but for us it has been natural. Now we’re getting older and you realise that the child will grow up and will present us with many challenges.