"Are You a Legal Stranger to Your Children?"
That's what Jarrod Freeman, partner with Alternate Route, asked Jaime Duggan, a Dallas family law attorney focused on the LGBT community, when she told him of several heartbreaking cases where a biological mom was keeping her child away from her ex-partner even though BOTH women planned the pregnancy, shared expenses and have been involved actively in the child's life for years... even after they split up.
Without a formal adoption, non-biological parents are essentially strangers to their children in the eyes of the law. Even now with marriage equality and names being added on birth certificates, non-biological parents are not granted any automatic rights should the couple split up and the biological parent decides to withhold visitation or access.
Unfortunately, these stories are all too common. Not only do attorneys like Duggan see these battles play out daily, but as a Wills & estate planning attorney in the LGBT community, I also see this occur when it comes to inheritance and guardianship. It is disheartening that those of us in the LGBT community fight so hard to achieve equality, but then exploit the laws that are against us when it comes to break ups and divorces. In one recent case in Dallas, a biological mom actually called her former partner a "glorified babysitter" thereby completely discounting the fact that they had decided together to have a child and shared responsibility and expenses for over 5 years of the child's life. What does that do to the child to suddenly have a person that even her biological mom referred to as her parent taken out of her life? Just like any couple, if you intend to have a child together, then you accept that you both will be in that child's life regardless of whether the relationship works out. What signal does that send to the community at large to see the LGBT community turn on itself this way?
Ultimately, according to Duggan, the law needs to change.
Laws currently are gender specific and do not account for same-sex parents. What needs to happen is for the law to evolve with changing times and families and provide for recognition of a non-biological parent regardless of gender.
In the end, this is about the children and their well-being. Ask any family law attorney and they will tell you they see heterosexual couples trying to get out of their responsibilities to their children and we should champion these parents who are seeking nothing more than helping to nurture a child both emotionally and financially. What parent wouldn't want their child to have as many people as possible to love and support them?
In the meantime, attorneys like myself recommend careful planning, such as premarital agreements, parenting agreements, adoption, and to consult an attorney rather than just "agree". Most of all, seek legal counsel as soon as possible and do NOT take the law into your own hands or assume all will work out without having legal protections formally put into place. Otherwise, you might be a parent today, and a stranger tomorrow!