Courts in Missouri and New York affirmed this week that nonbiological parents should be recognized as parents under the law—nice victories, but also a reminder that we need to apply this in our own lives, even in cases of divorce or separation.
The Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, ruled that Kathleen M., a nonbiological parent who had planned for and raised a child from birth with her former partner Kate, could seek custody or visitation. The two women had been in a committed relationship and had their child with help from an anonymous sperm donor. “Kathleen took maternity leave, stayed home with him when he was sick, and acted as his parent in every way,” the National Center for Lesbian Rights tells us. They handled Kathleen’s case in conjunction with Missouri attorney Michelle Spirn.
The appeals court ruled that the lower court had erred in saying that Kathleen could not seek custody or visitation:
The evidence of a significant bonded familial custodial relationship between Kathleen and Child is overwhelming in both quantity and quality. The evidence is such that it leads to only one sensible conclusion: this was a family under every reasonable definition aside from legal….
By Kate’s own admission, she would not have even had Child absent her relationship with Kathleen and the support and assistance Kathleen provided because she believed having and raising a child was too much to take on by herself. The court found from the time of Child’s birth until the parties’ separation, the parties and their children operated as and presented themselves to the outside world as a family unit. Before the parties’ separation, Kathleen sought to formalize and legally protect the role she had been fulfilling for years. After their separation, Kathleen immediately requested to continue her parental role, seeking a formal visitation schedule and offering to pay child support. When Kate refused to accept financial support, Kathleen began contributing $800 a month to an account established under Child’s name, accumulating $12,810 by the time of trial….
The record contains substantial and overwhelming evidence demonstrating Kathleen and Child had not just a parent-child relationship, but one that was significantly bonded.
The process for Kathleen and her child is not over yet, however. She has won the right to seek further connection with her child, but must go back to the lower court so they may determine whether she can provide a stable environment for the child and whether such connection is in the child’s best interest.
This is one in a very long line of cases involving biological moms trying to cut off nonbiological moms from a child they planned for and raised together. As a community, we need to make clear that this is unacceptable behavior.
While most such cases that make the headlines involve two moms, a New York appeals court this week ruled on one involving two dads. Marco D. and Han Ming T., British citizens, had had their child via surrogacy in 2014, and named the child after both of their mothers, the New York Law Journal tells us. They lived together in Florida until 2015, when Ming T. went back to the U.K. to find employment. Marco had at some point after 2013 begun a relationship with Carlos A. In January 2016, Carlos petitioned to adopt the child, but did not disclose Ming’s role to the family court, nor that Ming had initiated divorce proceedings and a joint custody request.
The Appellate Division, First Department court affirmed a lower court ruling that Ming should have been given notice of the adoption petition, as he was the child’s other legal parent per the key 2016 state high court decision in Brooke B. v Elizabeth C.C., another instance of a bio mom trying to cut off a nonbio mom. Brooke said that a person not related to a child by biology or adoption may still be considered a parent if they and the other parent agreed to have and raise the child together—regardless of whether the adults are married.
Congratulations to the nonbiological parents in both of these cases, and best wishes to them in their continuing family journeys.