"Seahorse" dads present unique paternity considerations

With advances in gender reassignment surgery and changes in federal policy regarding marriage rights, more people than ever before are in same-sex marriages or have a fulfilling union with a transgender, genderqueer or non-binary partner. That has given rise to so-called "seahorse dads."

For those unfamiliar with this term, a seahorse dad is a transgender man or a person assigned female at birth who now presents as male who carries a child to term. The name derives from the fact that in seahorses, it is the male of the species who gives birth, which is certainly unique among animals. Thanks to advancements in technology, humans are now the second species capable of having males carry children to term.

There are myriad reasons why a seahorse father could carry a child. They may have a wife who cannot have a child or does not want to give birth. They also could be married to a man who is unable for basic biological reasons to carry a child. Regardless of why a transgender man chooses to carry a baby, it is important that he and his partner consider the legal ramifications of doing so.

Even in a marriage, there may be custody complications

When a married couple has a child, the state of Florida tends to assume that the husband is the paternal father. Unless the mother specifically asked them not to, the hospital will typically list a husband on the birth certificate as the father. It is easy to see how that assumption of paternity could become complicated with seahorse dads.

If a seahorse dad has a wife, the hospital likely will not put the wife down as the mother, as there probably isn't a genetic link between her and the baby. It is also possible that the hospital will resist listing a male spouse to a seahorse dad as the father, even if he is the biological father. Confusion and lack of legal precedent complicate these situations, just like they do same-sex divorces with children.

If your family experiences these complications or if you are a seahorse dad who has a partner but is not married, arranging for a paternal adoption of your child is usually the best way to secure legal protections.

Not all lawyers understand LBGT issues

Seahorse dads, as trans men, typically have had to deal with a lot of discrimination and harassment in their lives. Even if they have found an accepting place of work and a loving partner, they probably have a history of complicated social relationships.

There is no need to add a confused or biased attorney to the list of people who don't understand the needs of families that include transgender or non-binary members. Working with an experienced attorney who has a familiarity with LBGT issues can help your family negotiate the legal issues presented by seahorse fatherhood without unnecessarily adding to your stress.

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Beverly L . Brennan A PARTNER AT MCLAUGHLIN & STERN, LLP - NAPLES, FLORIDA ATTORNEY & COUNSELOR AT LAW

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