Even as marriage rights for LGBTQ+ people have made a marked improvement over the past decade, the law is still catching up when it comes to parenting rights. That’s especially true when couples divorce or break up.
This summer, a Michigan Supreme Court ruling opened the way for those who had a child with a same-sex partner they were prohibited from marrying to seek shared custody of that child now. The 5-2 ruling stated in part, “The children of same-sex partners bear no lesser rights to the enjoyment and support of two parents than children born to married opposite-sex parents.”
The case before the court involved a woman who was seeking custody of a son whom her former partner gave birth to back in 2008, when neither marriage nor adoption of the child were legal in Michigan. The couple, who broke up four years later, were never married. The plaintiff claimed that she continued to help care for the child until her former partner eventually prevented her from having contact with the boy.
Extending the “equitable parent doctrine” to same-sex couples
This ruling basically extends Michigan’s “equitable parent doctrine” that lets non-biological parents seek custody of a child they helped raise during their marriage to parents who were in same-sex relationships before same-sex marriage was legal. However, they need to provide evidence that they would have gotten married if it had been allowed to.
The justice who wrote for the majority said that the ruling is a “step toward righting the wrongs done by that unconstitutional prohibition.” She also noted, “Justice does not depend on family composition; all who petition for recognition of their parental rights are entitled to equal treatment under the law.”
One of the two justices who dissented said that the ruling “requires courts to speculate as to whether a same-sex couple would have chosen to get married had they possessed the opportunity to do so.” This would require that they “dive into all public and private aspects of a now-defunct relationship….”
In Michigan, most courts allow a person in a same-sex relationship to adopt a non-biological child from that relationship or marriage. That can be the best way to ensure continued parenting rights and a bonded relationship with your child regardless of what happens with your relationship as a couple. Having experienced legal guidance can make all the difference.