Toronto Life - - Contents - —Sarah Ful­ford Email: ed­i­tor@toron­to­life.com Twit­ter: @sarah_ ful­ford

Back in 2010, Jen­nifer Mathers McHenry had a health scare while giv­ing birth to her first child. Her heart rate plum­meted, and for a while it wasn’t clear if she was go­ing to pull through. Her wife, Kirsti Mathers McHenry, at her side, was ter­ri­fied. She was also struck by a dis­tress­ing re­al­iza­tion: if Jen­nifer had died in child­birth, Kirsti might not have been able to take their baby home. In the eyes of the law, she had no parental rights. The birth mother and the sperm donor could have been the only le­gal par­ents.

Jen­nifer sur­vived, and their baby, a girl named Ruby, was born healthy. For Kirsti to be legally rec­og­nized as a par­ent, she had to hire a lawyer, get a court date and seek a dec­la­ra­tion of parent­age. When the cou­ple had their sec­ond child, a boy named Cy, Kirsti took parental leave, but she couldn’t col­lect ben­e­fits un­til she went through a sec­ond dec­la­ra­tion of parent­age. The two ap­pli­ca­tions were stress­ful and ex­pen­sive, and felt to­tally un­just.

Jen­nifer and Kirsti are both lawyers with master’s de­grees in con­sti­tu­tional and equal­ity law; if any­one was equipped to change the sys­tem, it was them. As Jen­nifer wrote in Prece­dent mag­a­zine at the time: “Be­ware the lawyer moms when the law threat­ens our ba­bies.” They en­listed the help of NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo, who in­tro­duced a pri­vate mem­ber’s bill called Cy and Ruby’s Act. The re­sult of their ef­forts is Bill 28, the All Fam­i­lies Are Equal Act, which came into ef­fect in Jan­uary 2017. It was the first mod­i­fi­ca­tion to On­tario’s parent­age laws since 1978.

The changes reflect the evo­lu­tion of our so­ci­ety’s no­tion of fam­ily: now, in­tended par­ents can reg­is­ter as le­gal par­ents be­fore a baby is even con­ceived. The courts rec­og­nize “pre-con­cep­tion agree­ments,” which means that par­ents—gay and straight alike—won’t have to go through the dec­la­ra­tion process. Le­gal terms such as “mother” and “fa­ther” have been elim­i­nated in favour of the gen­der-neu­tral “par­ent.” And sig­nif­i­cantly, the law al­lows for each child to have up to four legally rec­og­nized par­ents—re­gard­less of how those par­ents are con­nected to each other.

In other words, co-par­ents don’t need to be mar­ried or co-habi­tat­ing or to have ever been ro­man­ti­cally in­volved.

Sin­gle peo­ple who want to have kids can now con­nect with other prospec­tive par­ents on so­cial net­works like Mo­dam­ily and Fam­ily By De­sign. Les­bian cou­ples can co-par­ent with the bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther of their child in a trio. Gay male cou­ples can in­clude the birth mom in a sim­i­lar ar­range­ment. Or three or four friends can sim­ply de­cide to raise a kid to­gether. What do some of these new ar­range­ments look like in real life? We asked Christina Gon­za­les, a re­source­ful re­porter and a skilled in­ter­viewer, to find out. In her piece, “Mod­ern Fam­ily” (page 62), three fam­i­lies talk about how they de­cided to have ba­bies to­gether and how their lives work now. Erin Ley­don, a tal­ented pho­tog­ra­pher, vividly cap­tured the in­ti­macy of their do­mes­tic lives for the story.

One thing com­mon to all three of the fam­i­lies fea­tured: they asked each other tough ques­tions about par­ent­ing be­fore bring­ing a child into the world, and estab­lished prac­ti­cal and moral goals: how much they will con­trib­ute monthly to their chil­dren’s RESPs, whether the chil­dren will be raised re­li­giously, where they plan to live. If only all par­ents had to have such frank con­ver­sa­tions be­fore pro­cre­at­ing.

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