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Polyamory--"Ethical Non-Monogamy"--and the Law

By Neetal Parekh | Last updated on

Derived from the the Greek prefix "poly" for many and the Latin word "amor" for love, polyamory is the unconventional practice of being in and consenting to multiple romantic relationships at a time.  Termed "ethical" or "responsible" non-monogamy, the practice has been gaining more attention and more followers in recent years.

How does polyamory tie into law and is it a form of polygamy?

Polyamory distinguishes itself from the similar-sounding polygamy.  Polygamy is marriage to multiple spouses at the same time.  It is illegal in all states and is grounds for annulment.

Polyamory, unlike polygamy, is not defined by marriage.  Thus, unless the relationships violate any standing state laws, they are out of judicial purview-- but do not receive the legal and tax benefits and responsibilities as assigned by registered marriage.

The law perhaps intersects most with polyamory in the realm of child custody and shared property.  Though appearing to offer seemingly unlimited choice and openness, even polyamorous relationships can go south.  It is at that time that polyamorists are likely to take a closer look at their legal rights to determine custody arrangements and how property will be divided.

Because polyamory is not legally recognized, there are no inherent rights for members of a polyamorous relationship.  Property division is determined by ownership and community property laws do not apply. 

Similarly, child custody considerations for partners in a polyamorous relationship will parallel those of unmarried parents, in which state courts often favor awarding sole physical custody to the mother.  Because of the unconventional nature of polyamory, the court may exhibit a bias toward awarding custody to a parent that is not in a polyamorous unit.  Drafting a collaborative and mutual agreement between those vying for custody and visitation may prove more successful and less uprooting for the child involved---rather than turning to the court to resolve the issue.


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