October 25, 2013

Michigan court rules against same-sex partner in custody case

Potentially setting a precedent for hundreds of similar cases, the Michigan Court of Appeals recently decided that a woman may not sue her former same-sex partner for parental or visitation rights as she is not related to the child by blood. The couple was married in Canada before moving to Michigan, where they separated in 2009.

The child was conceived by the defendant and a third party after the marriage, and thus bore no familial relation to the plaintiff. She claimed she met Michigan’s standard for seeking joint custody and visitation rights, as she helped raise and care for the child. The child’s birth mother asked the court throw out the lawsuit on the grounds that the plaintiff was not related to the child. The circuit court assented and dismissed the case.

After her request was rejected by the circuit court, the plaintiff argued that the equitable parent doctrine entitled her to claim child custody. However, the Court of Appeals cited a 1987 decision stipulating that only married couples can enjoy the benefits of that doctrine. Because Michigan does not recognize same-sex marriages, even those performed out-of-state or internationally, the court found that the plaintiff may not seek parental rights.

The decision has drawn criticism from a number of gay rights advocates, including an executive with Equality Michigan. She accused the court of interpreting state law too strictly and failing to consider how the child would benefit from having two parents. She argued that denying custody or visitation to non-birth parents exposes the state’s children to needless risk.

Similarly, a Democratic state representative who recently introduced a bill that would allow for second parent adoption says the case illustrates how courts are prioritizing the language of one law over the best interests of hundreds of children.

While the decision has likely complicated many same-sex relationships, the family court system remains a valuable resource for parents who hope to secure child custody, visitation rights or child support payments.

Source: PrideSource, “Lesbian Co-parent Has No Legal Standing To Claim Visitation, Custody Mich. Court Rules” Todd A. Heywood, Oct. 24, 2013