The concept of a "traditional" family has changed considerably in the past few decades. Many people would argue that there is no such thing any longer. A small but increasing number of people are winning the legal right to what is called "tri-parenting" -- where three adults are recognized as legal parents of a child.

Some of these tri-parenting situations occur when two women ask a male friend not just to supply the DNA to conceive their child, but to remain an active part of that child's life. A male couple may ask a female friend to bear a child for them and continue to be the child's mom. In some cases, a man may find out that he's not the biological parent of his child, but wants to continue to be considered his or her legal parent. Those are the most common tri-parenting scenarios.

The Advantages of Tri-Parenting

One professor with the American Psychological Association sees the advantages to multiple parents. She says, "That extra sense of social support has really been found to be beneficial for children." Having a legal bond can also help keep parents and children more connected to each another.

The legal system is starting to recognize this as well. Courts in at least a dozen states have ruled in cases that a child can have a third parent. In California and Maine, state law allows more than two legal parents.

The Arguments Against It

Not everyone agrees with the concept. The "slippery slope" argument has been used that the number of legal parents could multiply as mothers and fathers get new significant others or spouses. Some people argue that kids are better off in a two-parent family. One sociologist notes, "This is going to be a family form where children are exposed to more complexity and more instability."

Of course, with three legal parents, custody cases can get complicated if relationships sour. Nonetheless, two-parent custody cases can be nasty and drawn-out as well.

If you are considering making a tri-parenting arrangement a legal one, it's essential to know what the laws of your state are and what the history of court rulings on such matters has been in your area. Your family law attorney can provide information and guidance and, if possible, help you work toward the legal arrangement that you believe is in your child's best interests.