While unconventional, co-parenting seems like a legitimate option for men and women responsible enough to navigate the waters cautiously. Read more about the process from the perspective of those new to co-parenting, as well as those who have successfully raised children using similar methods.
With their biological clocks ticking, time poor and cash rich 40-something singletons are turning to the internet to find their man.
But these broody women are not looking for a relationship – instead they are looking for someone to father their child. More and more people across the U.S and UK are opting for the so-called ‘co-parenting’ relationships – biological parents who have an otherwise platonic relationship, but who both contribute to raising the child.
Emma Elms reports on the rise of the unconventional trend.
WANTED Male co-parent to father at least one child with an attractive, financially independent 42-year-old woman. Must be a fully involved co-parent happy to share emotional and financial responsibility. Pregnancy via IVF by January 2014.
Rachel Hope, 42, is a property developer from Los Angeles. She is attractive, successful…and wants to be pregnant by January 2014. After 18 months of searching for a potential baby father, she has signed up to a website giving her access to thousands of men across the world who, like her, aren’t looking for a relationship, but want a child with someone who’ll take their parenting role seriously. Instead of strings attached, there’s an umbilical cord. ‘I’m in serious talks with three men – one from India, one from Germany and a gay man from the US,’ says Rachel.
Melani, 42, a senior sales consultant from New York, has also joined Modamily.com. ‘Ideally, I’m looking for the whole package – love, man and a child – but I’m also 42 and, although I’m in great shape, my biological clock has almost finished ticking. I need to be as proactive as I can.’ Melani is looking for 50:50 involvement with a co-parent, providing equal emotional and financial commitment to the child. Ideally, she’d like her son or daughter to live with her, with the co-parent nearby. None of her three previous boyfriends wanted children and she’d also dabbled in internet dating. ‘I found online dating more like a “virtual bar” and not a place to meet people with a big interest in family life. People on Modamily have no problem voicing the desire for children.’
Since joining the site a year ago, Melani has exchanged emails with ten would-be dads and now has two potential candidates: Ben*, a 46-year-old financier from Washington DC, and Will*, a 37-year-old banker living in Manhattan.
Former actor Ivan Fatovic, 37, is the charismatic founder of Modamily.com and had the idea for the site on a night out with friends. ‘Many of them were women in their mid to late 30s, who were ready to have a baby but just weren’t meeting the right men. They didn’t want to be a single parent or use an anonymous sperm donor, so I thought it’d be great to pair up people who felt the same way.’
Co-parenting in the UK:
Co-parenting sites exist in the UK too, such as Co-parentmatch.com which launched in 2007. It has seen membership surge from 5,000 in its first year to 30,000 worldwide. One member in three is now looking beyond simple sperm donation to involved co-parenting relationships.
The past 12 months have seen a rise in the number of single heterosexual women on the site. Co-founder Jenny Kearns puts this down to long waiting lists for sperm donors and IVF ‘and also the fact that women are becoming more open to the idea of knowing the father of their child’.
Like Modamily, the site recommends that women go through a licensed fertility clinic and use artificial insemination (AI) rather than natural (NI — sex), as their rights are better protected. ‘If you use a known sperm donor or co-parent and want to agree a parenting role for the father, it’s best to put in place a “Sperm Donor Agreement” or a “Co-Parenting Agreement,”’ says Jenny. ‘You can specify who will be named on the birth certificate, residence orders, financial responsibility, what happens if the relationship breaks down, etc.’
Conceiving outside a clinic confers different rights. With home insemination via AI, the donor is classed as the legal father unless the mother is married, in which case the husband can assume parental responsibility if he consents. With NI the biological dad is always classed as the legal father.
Jenny says she knows of past site members who have successfully co-parented without an agreement, but wouldn’t advise it. ‘Problems are more likely to occur if you are using a donor
who says he wants no involvement, then changes his mind. This is where donor agreements are useful and the method of conception important.’
Since Modamily’s launch in 2012, membership has rocketed to 4,000. Its first baby is due this summer. Most members are based in the US; the UK is the second largest market, with 800 members so far. Ivan also has several hundred members in other parts of Europe, Australia and Brazil. All are committed to a mutual involvement in the child’s life. Most want a co-parent within easy visiting distance, but some European members are open to cross-country partnerships. Typically members are high-flyers who, having invested years in their career, realise that time is running out to have a baby – or they are women who were in serious relationships that suddenly ended, shattering their dreams of motherhood.
The thorny question of conception is addressed up front, whether through IVF in a clinic, a home insemination kit or old-fashioned sex – referred to as ‘natural insemination’ or ‘NI’. Members post profiles of themselves, covering everything from their preferred method of conception to their education and parenting views. The site advises members to use artificial insemination (AI) rather than NI.
‘We don’t recommend NI,’ says Ivan, ‘but a lot of people think it’s the best way and it’s also, of course, the cheapest. Some people feel like they should have that connection, so they can tell their child they dated briefly. But for people who are purely looking to co-parent we recommend they do IVF, or if they can’t afford it, home insemination.’
But couldn’t a woman with a loudly ticking biological clock be at risk from unscrupulous men looking for sex under the guise of co-parenting? What’s to say he wouldn’t disappear after the deed was done – or that he’s even fertile?
‘We try to remind people that this is the internet,’ says Ivan. ‘We advise them to meet in a public place, like any other dating site. We also recommend members do background checks on the person, to make sure they haven’t got a criminal record or are about to go bankrupt.’ The site has a link to a company offering this service.
Melani wouldn’t rule out NI, if it meant fulfilling her dream of motherhood. ‘It’s a delicate situation but if he was just so great for me as a future dad, I would consider having “baby sex”, even if I wasn’t attracted to him.’
She is realistic, though, about the difficulties in shutting down your feelings. ‘I think women would be fooling themselves if they think they would just want to have a baby and not have any sort of relationship with the dad,’ she admits. ‘In an ideal scenario, after conceiving you might find you did want a relationship together after all.’
Members often spend months liaising on every tiny detail of how the arrangement would work. Ivan advises them to seek legal advice and have a formal agreement drawn up, spelling out their rights and responsibilities. The site even has a template co-parenting agreement.
It’s free to sign up for Modamily, but to read and send messages costs $29.95 for a one-month subscription. A concierge service, where the Modamily team help to find an ideal match, is $199.95 for four months. For Carson Rennick, 36, a 6ft 3in handsome Canadian – one of the sought-after heterosexual men on the site – it’s money well spent. ‘I don’t want to be 40 or 50 having my first child and not being able to enjoy their fundamental years,’ he says. ‘I’m using the site as a way to fast-track. This isn’t my ideal way to have a child, but it’s another form of parenting I want to explore. If a woman meets the exact criteria I’ve now defined, I’m 100 per cent going through with it.’
He is looking for a ‘good-hearted person from a relatively stable, healthy family so they have solid morals. Someone who’s invested time in their education, so I know they have the drive to better themselves. I don’t mind about race or sexuality but I’d have to know this person inside and out, including their immediate family and social circle. I like the fact that on Modamily you can get straight into a conversation about the finer details of how you’d want to raise a child, because there are no romantic feelings involved.’
Brought up by his mother, Carson barely saw his father until he turned 15; he now wants more for his own child. ‘I’m trying to avoid the downsides of a failed relationship and the drama of an unwanted child from a one-night stand. There’s a lot of groundwork to be done in terms of getting to know the person, because essentially this is the person who, if you co-parent together, will be part of your life for ever.’
Three months ago, Carson started dating someone unconnected to the site, who is not sure whether she wants children. He’s been open with her about his presence on Modamily. ‘She’s waiting until the time comes [when he finds a co-parent] and we’ll discuss it from there. She understands my reasoning behind it.’ So far, he’s been liaising with four women on the site. ‘I want a lasting relationship ideally, but if not and I have to go down the co-parenting route then – if everything is discussed openly – to me, logic dictates it should work.’
Could Carson be the ideal match for Rachel? After all, she is the poster girl for co-parenting, having already had two planned children by male friends, neither of whom she was romantically involved with. Her son Jesse was conceived the natural way and is now 22; daughter Grace, conceived via IVF, is four. She and Grace’s father share separate wings of a rented house, with Grace shuttling happily between them. ‘Jesse is at college in Miami now and has grown into a kind, independent young man,’ says Rachel. ‘He’s very close to both parents; every year we all have a family holiday together. Jesse feels he was lucky to have such a fantastic upbringing, seeing so many other parents divorce, but he doesn’t feel co-parenting is the ideal scenario in which to raise a child. He’s quite conservative and feels a husband and wife who are in love are the ideal role models for a child. I kind of agree with him!’
While Rachel has had many marriage proposals, until now none of her suitors has been father material. Her current boyfriend is 59 and has had a vasectomy. ‘But we haven’t ruled out a reversal so we can try for children together. Luckily, he’s very accepting of my unusual family. I’ve started to coach others on how to make co-parenting work. I’m proud I’ve become a pioneer in this field.’
While co-parenting is a lifestyle trend geared towards the parents’ needs, can it work for the child too? Child psychologist Naeema Jiwani from the Human Relations Institute says it can, so long as the parents are well matched ‘to avoid raising a child with two different approaches and value systems’. Parents need to reiterate to the child that they are loved by both parents even though they don’t share the same house, she adds. Rachel’s success as a co-parent may be in no small part down to the fact that she and Jesse’s father Glenn spent months discussing their core values, living arrangements and schooling before committing to share a child.
Carson is hoping that he and the co-parent would have the child to live with them for three-month stints, with the child spending weekends with the opposite parent. Jiwani warns that this could be disorientating for a child. ‘One of the most important aspects in a child’s development is their sense of predictability, so a regular routine would be better.’
Katy Regan, 39, from Hertfordshire, who became a co-parent eight years ago after an unplanned pregnancy with a friend (her novel One Thing Led to Another is inspired by her experience) agrees that consistency is key, ‘for the child’s sake – and your own sanity!
‘We always did three nights at his dad’s and four nights at mine, but have found that the older our son has got, the more important this consistency is. It’s also crucial to communicate well, because if you don’t, the child can suffer. For example, parenting style, bedtimes… It’s fine to have different ideas, as long as those ideas are consistent in each of the houses. Ideally, it’s good to agree on some core things.’
Co-parenting can have pluses for the child, adds Jiwani. ‘Compared with conventional parenting where the mother and father have to constantly be “in love” in front of their child, co-parenting doesn’t include the “strain” of marriage. Also, a child conceived in a co-parenting scenario has access to two loving parents, who have made a conscious effort to conceive this child and may be more financially ready.’
Having a child in a co-parenting scenario needn’t stop you finding your soulmate further down the line, as proven by Apryll, 38, a pilates teacher from LA. Single and determined to be a mother before the age of 30, Apryll had a baby via NI with her best friend Charlie. Their daughter Cheyenne is now eight and Apryll is married to another man, Damian. The four of them are a happily unconventional family.
‘I knew Charlie would be a great dad because he’s a really good provider, he’s got a huge heart and he’s very driven. With those qualities, I knew no matter what happened that we’d always be a family,’ says Apryll. Damian and Charlie ‘are like best friends’ and they all regularly meet up. ‘To all intents and purposes, I have two husbands!’ she laughs.
Apryll and Charlie live just 12 miles apart and speak most days, ending calls with ‘I love you’, though their relationship is 100 per cent platonic. To Cheyenne, the situation is normal. ‘We explained that Mommy and Daddy wanted a baby, that we were friends and we love each other,’ says Apryll. ‘We’re an abnormal family, but it works for us!’
Far from being confusing for the child, there can be emotional benefits of co-parenting. ‘The child has two people who love them and who are – hopefully – friends, with no fear of divorce,’ says Katy Regan. ‘As a co-parent you have support and a child, yet also your freedom, so it can work really well.’