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NY Court of Appeals announces groundbreaking decision on same-sex parental rights case

NEW YORK— In a landmark ruling, the New York Court of Appeals has revised the legal definition of “parent” under New York’s Domestic Relations Law, changing the laws regarding parental custody and visitation, especially as it relates to same-sex couples.  The new criteria no longer relies on 25 year old precedent which defined “parent” exclusively as a person related by biology or adoption to a child. The Court found that this rule had “become unworkable when applied to increasingly varied familial relationships.”

Today’s decision in Brooke S.B. v. Elizabeth A. C.C. followed an appeal on behalf of a child seeking time with both mothers after his same-sex parents split up.  The appeal was argued by Eric Wrubel, Esq., and in addition to Mr. Wrubel, was written by Linda Genero Sklaren, Esq. and Alex Goldberg, Esq., of Warshaw Burstein, LLP.  Warshaw Burstein was appellate counsel to the attorney for the child, R. Thomas Rankin, Esq., of Goodell & Rankin, who sought and was granted leave to appeal on behalf of the child.

“This is a major step forward for same-sex couples and especially for the children of those parents,” says Mr. Wrubel.  “Tying the definition of parenthood to biology or adoption was no longer viable.  This new ruling will help to protect children, regardless of the marital or financial status of their parents.”

The Court expressly overruled its holding in Alison D. v. Virginia M. (1991) where it had previously created a “bright line” rule holding that only persons related to a child through biology or adoption had standing to seek custodial/visitation rights to a child, refusing to give consideration to deeply held parent-child relationships formed outside of these traditional spheres and whether it is in the best interest of the child to continue such relationships.

Many couples will raise children without getting married, where one partner has no biological relation to the child, and where the couple does not proceed with a second-parent adoption.  In the case of same-sex couples, the area where the majority of the reported New York cases arise, one parent, and in some cases neither parent, is biologically related to his or her child.  Further, couples often cannot meet the financial costs attendant with an adoption; in some cases, the parents’ relationship terminates before the lengthy process of an adoption can be finalized.  Mr. Wrubel asserted that Alison D. was out of touch with the realities of modern life and that “parenthood needs to be determined by looking at how the parties live as a family, and who cares for and provides for the child — both emotionally and financially.”

The Court agreed with Mr. Wrubel, acknowledging that Alison D. “has inflicted disproportionate hardship on the growing number of nontraditional families across our State.”  It abandoned the “overly-restrictive definition of ‘parent’ that sets too high a bar for reaching a child’s best interest and does not take into account equitable principles.”

Under the new law, non-biological, non-adoptive parents will no longer be automatically barred from seeking custody and visitation.  The Court today stated that a party can establish standing in such cases by showing “by clear and convincing evidence that the parties agreed to conceive a child and to raise the child together.”  The Court left open the question whether a party who formed parent-like relationship with a child after conception can establish standing.

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Posted by on Aug 31, 2016. Filed under Around the Nation, Online Only, Top Highlights. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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