There’s no question that the rights of LGBTQ+ Americans have expanded in recent years and that Michigan is ahead of many other states in that journey. However, when it comes to parental rights, things can still be challenging.
In many cases, only one partner is the biological parent of a child. That can leave the other parent having to fight for custody and parenting time – or even the right to seek it — if the couple ends their relationship. Earlier this year, the Michigan Supreme Court issued a ruling that takes a step in the right direction for these non-biological parents.
Non-biological mother fighting for the right to seek custody
The case involved a woman who is seeking custody and parenting time rights for a child born in 2008 and conceived via in vitro fertilization. She says she helped raise him, even after the two broke up, until her former partner prohibited her from contacting him.
A lower court had ruled that she had no standing to seek custody or parenting time because she wasn’t the child’s biological parent and the two were never married. The plaintiff claimed that they would have married if they’d been allowed to back then.
The ruling gives the woman the right to present her case to a county court. She first has to provide evidence that the couple would have married if same-sex marriage had been legal. She then has to present a case that she should be allowed to share custody and parenting time with her ex.
Justices differed on whether they should be deciding these matters
The justice who wrote the ruling in the 5-2 decision said, “Justice does not depend on family composition; all who petition for recognition of their parental rights are entitled to equal treatment under the law.” She also noted, “While the decision in this case likely affects few, it is, nonetheless, important for what it represents.”
One of the dissenting justices said, “I am uncomfortable with retroactively recognizing a marriage-equivalent relationship. … Courts will be required to dive into all public and private aspects of a now-defunct relationship to hypothesize whether the couple would have chosen to marry.”
Too often, what’s lost in these court battles is what’s in a child’s best interests. That often requires breaking new legal ground, which many judges are hesitant to do. If you’re trying to insure or seek parenting rights for a child who is not biologically yours, the best first step is to get experienced legal guidance.