Adults who are neither related to children nor their adoptive parents can apply for the right to visit them or take on their care, a US court has ruled.
The case concerned a female same sex couple from Chautauqua County in New York state. They began their relationship in 2006 and it quickly became serious. The pair announced their engagement the following year, even though gay marriage was not yet legal in the state.
In 2008 one of the two women became pregnant via artificial insemination and gave birth to a boy. The other woman took on a father-like role despite having no genetic or legal links to the child, forming a close relationship with him. She helped to raise the boy and even gave him her last name.
Unfortunately the couple’s relationship ended when the child was only two, although the second woman continued to see the child. After three years, however, the situation deteriorated and the birth mother tried to break off all contact. This prompted her former partner to launch legal proceedings, seeking “custody and visitation rights”.
A court described the case as “heart-breaking” but still insisted that the second woman had no legal rights as a parent under state law because she was not related to the child and had not legally adopted him either.
But that decision has now been overturned by the New York State Court of Appeals. Judges there said the existing legal definition of a parent, created by the same court 25 years previously, had become obsolete in light of the legal and social changes since. They declared that:
“…where a partner shows by clear and convincing evidence that the parties agreed to conceive a child and to raise the child together, the non-biological, non-adoptive partner has standing to seek visitation and custody.”
The second woman’s lawyer hailed the ruling as one that brought the state “into line with the mainstream in the United States in recognizing that children frequently have a second parent not related to them by blood, adoption or marriage.”
Read the full ruling here.