Some rainbow families include three or more co-parents who share significant parenting responsibilities. At present, neither Victorian nor federal laws allow for equal recognition of more than two legal parents.

Since the reforms, a child’s legal parents are their birth mother and her partner (if she has/had one at the time of conception). The exception is where a child is conceived through sex between the biological mother and father, in which case they are the legal parents and the non-birth mother (if there is one) is not. Thus, for children born after the reforms, only the birth mother and her partner (if she has one) can be listed on the certificate, as the legal parents. To list anyone else is to make a false declaration.

Historically, co-parent families might have chosen to list the birth mother only, or the birth mother and biological father on the birth certificate. If the latter applies to you, the biological father is presumed to be the legal parent, not the non-birth mother, unless the certificate is changed by County Court order. If you wish to change the certificate, refer to the above procedures for families who listed their donor under ‘father’.

Many co-parent families have historically chosen to list the birth mother only on the birth certificate, and sought parenting orders for other co-parents. One reason for this is because listing the biological father on the birth certificate would have created implications for social security, tax and other matters that may not have fitted the family’s needs. It is important to note that if a conflict arises, legal parentage (reflected on the birth certificate) is only one factor in determining the outcome. A court can award full residence and parenting responsibilities to parties other than the legal parents. For more discussion, look under ‘If relationships break down’ in the sheets for prospective lesbian and prospective gay male parents, and seek legal advice.

You should also seek legal advice as to which adults in your family situation (even if there is no dispute) require court parenting orders to legally recognise their parenting role/s. All parties who have parenting responsibilities under court order are, along with a child’s legal parent/s, required to give their consent for a child to obtain a passport. Parenting orders can include most of the rights and responsibilities of legal parentage, but end at age 18, and don’t include things like inheritance and superannuation in most situations. So it is important for those who require parenting orders to, for example, ensure they specifically recognise children in their wills and seek legal advice about choices in relation to making financial provision for children (including a choice not to make provision, which may be subject to legal challenge in very limited circumstances, even if you are not a legal parent).