The former same-sex domestic partner of a woman who gave birth to a child has standing to seek visitation with the child, according to the Indiana Court of Appeals, issued in a ruling on Thursday, Oct. 31. This ruling, according to the Indiana Lawyer, reversed a trial court’s decision that the ex-partner did not have standing.
In the case of A.C. v. N.J, the partner A.C. was ruled to have standing to seek parenting time, according to the opinion issued by the court. The case involved N.J. (Mother) and her same-sex partner A.C. During their relationship they decided to have a child together. N.J. was artificially inseminated with donor sperm, later giving birth to child, C.J. The family functioned as a unit until the child was two years old, when N.J. and A.C. ended their relationship. A.C. continued to have contact with the child until N.J. suddenly cut off all contact. A.C. filed a petition seeking joint custody and visitation, which was denied by the trial court.
Judge Ezra Friedlander wrote for the court, stating that it was up to the courts and lawmakers to address societal changes when a third-party non-biological parent seeks visitation with whom a child they have a parent-child relationship. Problems arise specifically when the relationship ends.
“The status of the law surrounding a lesbian partner’s right, if any, to enjoy the rights of a legal parent of a child born to her partner under the circumstances presented here remains uncertain. … (W)e solicited guidance from the General Assembly on this issue. In the years that have passed since then, none has been forthcoming. The existing statutory framework does not contemplate the increased use of assisted reproductive technologies. Accordingly, it provides no guidance in situations where an intended parent lacks a genetic connection to the child,” wrote Friedlander.
“That deficiency is exacerbated by the growing recognition of less traditional family structures. Our system of government entrusts the General Assembly, not the courts, to fashion a framework for deciding matters as tethered to social mores and sensibilities as this subject is. We feel the vacuum of such guidance even more acutely now than we did eight years ago, when King was decided,” Friedlander wrote.
In the court’s ruling, Friedlander called for legislative direction on how to handle similar situations in the future.
“Indeed, what began as a trickle is rapidly becoming a torrent, and the number of children whose lives are impacted by rules that have yet to be written only increases with the passage of time. They, and we, would welcome a legislative road-map to help navigate the novel legal landscape in which we have arrived. Until that happens, however, we must do the best we can to resolve the issues that come before us.”
The court declined to make a ruling on whether A.C. had the same rights as a biological parent would to seek joint custody “In the absence of a legislative directive, if full parental rights are to be recognized in a former same-sex partner under the circumstances presented here, that recognition must come from our Supreme Court,” Friedlander wrote.