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Maryland’s Highest Court Establishes ‘De Facto Parenthood’ in Lesbian Divorce and Custody Case
Maryland’s highest court ruled last week that a lesbian woman now identifying as a transgender man has parental standing to sue for visitation rights to a child her lesbian ex-spouse conceived by artificial insemination before they were legally married.
The court overturned its own 2008 decision that recognizing “de facto parents” violated the rights of biological or adoptive parents to govern the custody of their children.
The plaintiff, Michelle Conover (who now goes by Michael), is neither biologically related to Jaxon Conover, the biological son of her ex-spouse, Brittany Conover, nor did she ever legally adopt him during her relationship with the boy’s mother, according to court documents.
But the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled on July 7 that Michelle Conover should nonetheless be recognized as a de facto parent, overturning the decision of two lower courts as well as its own 2008 ruling that was used as a precedent in their decisions.
“Gays and lesbians are particularly ‘ill-served by rigid definitions of parenthood’…When gay or lesbian relationships end, at least one member will find itself in a court system ill-prepared to recognize its existence and to formulate rules to resolve its disputes,” Judge Sally Adkins wrote in the majority opinion, in which three of the other six judges on the court concurred.
In the decision, the court established de facto parenthood for a person who formed a “parent-like” relationship with the child that “the biological or adoptive parent consented to and fostered,” provided that “the petitioner and the child lived together in the same household, that the petitioner assumed obligations of parenthood by taking significant responsibility for the child’s care, education and development, including contributing towards the child’s support, without expectation of financial compensation, and that the petitioner has been in a parental role for a length of time sufficient to have established with the child a bonded, dependent relationship parental in nature.”
Prior to their marriage, Michelle Conover and Brittany Conover decided to have a child, so Brittany conceived a child by artificial insemination. Jaxon Conover was born in 2010, and Brittany was the only parent listed on the birth certificate. The couple was legally married six months later in the District of Columbia, but separated in 2011.
After they split, Brittany Conover prevented Michelle Conover from visiting Jaxon, claiming in divorce paperwork that the couple had no children together, court documents stated.
Michelle/Michael filed a court request for visitation rights claiming that she had standing as a parent under Maryland’s definition of “father” for children of unmarried parents. Michelle still identified as a woman at that time.
In 2013, the circuit court ruled that “
The lower court ruled that Michelle did not have parental standing, but as a third party, must first show that Brittany was an unfit parent or that exceptional circumstances existed in order to claim visitation rights.
Read more about it here: http://bit.ly/2asQapl
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