Although it may seem counterintuitive, the definition of a parent varies from state to state. A recent New York Supreme Court ruling has moved in a direction that many hope courts across the country will imitate. The new legal precedent gives rights that were not available before to non-biological parents.
The outcome of the high court’s decision may not result in a straightforward precedent, though.
Brooke S.B. v. Elizabeth A.C.C.
In New York, only a parent can gain custody or visitation rights of a child. Before the ruling in the Brooke S.B. v. Elizabeth A.C.C. case, when an unmarried couple separated and only one partner had a biological or adoptive tie to the child, that person was the only parent. However, Bloomberg explains that according to the new ruling, even though a couple separates or divorces before the birth of their child, their intent to have the baby and raise it together makes them both parents.
In the decision, the judge stated that there must be “clear and convincing evidence” that there was a preconception agreement between the two who planned to be co-parents.
Gunn v. Hamilton
Immediately following that decision, a new case was filed in the New York family court system. According to The New Yorker, a former partner of an adoptive parent claims that she took part in the early stages of the adoption process, and in the years since, has functioned in the role of a parent. The woman who completed the adoption and has been raising the child did agree to allow her former partner to be a godparent, but never considered her as a co-parent, she claims.
The judge, in that case, ruled that when one partner withdrew from the adoption process before the couple completed it, she terminated the preconception agreement. Therefore, the court did not consider the plaintiff to be a parent. The plaintiff filed an appeal, though, and this case may end up being the next step in the state Supreme Court’s attempt to more narrowly define who is a parent in New York.