Custody battles are never easy, but they usually start with two parents listed on a birth certificate. A recent family law court case did not have the luxury of predetermined parents: Two women in a same-sex relationship used a friend's sperm to conceive their daughter, and the judge ruled that all three should be included on the child's birth certificate. While this has never happened in the state of Illinois, it could become an issue with the increasing number of legal rights same sex couples are receiving.
The two women in the case made an oral, not written, agreement with the man that he would voluntarily donate his sperm while they remained the only parents of the child. The partner who did not give birth would adopt the child as her own.
As the pregnancy progressed, though, he changed his mind. Just before the baby was born, he told the couple he wanted to be a part of the child's life. Because nothing was written or signed prior to the child's birth, the man made a case that he should be considered a biological parent. As a biological parent, he said, he should have the same legal rights as the couple.
The decision to include the biological father on the birth certificate did not change the custody arrangement. The court's decision made it clear that the two women will have sole parental rights. He will have no decision-making authority with regard to the child's upbringing, and he will not be required to pay child support. However, he will have the right to visit his daughter, and the couple plans to include him in birthday and holiday celebrations.
It took two years to resolve the case, and it is hard not to wonder what would have happened if the three had entered into a written contract. The father may have been reluctant to challenge the contract, saving them all the stress of the lawsuit. Then again, he could have tried to change the terms of the contract, and the parties could have ended up in mediation. Or, of course, the dispute could have still ended up in court. The only thing that would not have changed is how the court approached the matter: by weighing the best interests of the child.
Source: Reuters, "Florida judge approves birth certificate listing three parents," Kevin Gray, Feb. 7, 2013
Our firm works with parents and parents-to-be on issues like the ones discussed in this post. You can find out more about our Libertyville, Illinois, practice by visiting our family law website.