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Matrimonial and Family Law Blog

Saturday, September 24, 2016

New York State Court of Appeals Rules to Expand the Definition of Parenthood

Who can seek custody of a child in New York?

New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, recently issued a monumental ruling that expands the definition of parenthood.  Under the new law, caretakers that are not related either biologically or through adoption to a child will still have standing to seek custody and visitation rights.  The ruling will have a significant impact for parents, especially same-sex couples, and brings New York into line with mainstream beliefs in the United States that parents need not be related to their children by blood, adoption, or marriage.

The case that brought about this important law change involved a same-sex couple that announced their engagement in 2007, though same-sex marriage was not permitted at the time in New York.  One of the partners later became pregnant with their child through artificial insemination.  While the other partner had no legal or biological ties, she raised the child with her partner, giving him her last name and maintaining a close relationship. 

In 2010, the couple ended their relationship, and three years later the biological parent of the child attempted to cut off her ex-partner’s contact.  She sued for custody of the child she had always raised as her own, but was denied under existing precedent that did not recognize a non-adoptive, non-biological caretaker as a parent. 

Caretakers As Parents

The case went to the New York State Court of Appeals, which overturned old case law and created a new definition of parenthood.  Under the new law, if a partner can show by clear and convincing evidence that the parties agreed to conceive or adopt and raise a child together, the non-biological, nonadoptive partner has legal standing to seek custody or visitation. Already, at least one New York mom has benefitted from the ruling and will be allowed to present her case for custody of her child, that is not related through adoption or biology. 

Many other states already recognize the rights of “de facto” parents to seek custody of their children.  This ruling brings New York up to speed and is recognized by many as a critical step forward in granting equal custody rights to all parents.  


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