Massachusetts court says domestic partners have equal parental rights

In a case that was heard by the Massachusetts Supreme Court, two female partners had lived together for several years. During the relationship, each partner had a baby with the assistance of a single sperm donor and both babies were born in Massachusetts. In 2009 the domestic partners broke up and the mother of the oldest child tried to prevent the partner from having contact with the child. She argued that the former partner had no legal custody and parenting plans and parenting plans rights.

However, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court disagreed with the mother in a September ruling, citing that because the two women had executed a legal declaration of domestic partnership when they lived in California, they were under the same laws as a married couple. Furthermore, because the two children had been born while the couple was still together, both women are the legal parents of the two children and possess equal parental rights.

Maintaining relationships

The ruling will enable the former partner to maintain the relationship she had established with the child since her birth, being her primary caregiver. Furthermore, the child will also have a relationship with her biological half-sibling, ensuring that the two children establish a familial connection with one another.

The court’s decision also opens the door for the former partner to request joint child custody and parenting plans and parenting plans over the oldest child. As such, the former partner will now be able to make active decisions regarding the child, including:

  • Education
  • Religion
  • Medical care
  • Living arrangements
  • Discipline
  • Extra-curricular activities

Legal equality

This is not the first time that a Massachusetts court has declared parents of the same-sex to have equalparental rights. In early February 2012, a case involving the custody and parenting plans and parenting plans of a child born to a same-sex couple was heard by an appeals court. In that case, the biological mother argued that the other woman did not have any legal rights to the child because the child was conceived before they were married.

However, the court stated that both women were equal legal parents because they were in a relationship at the time that the artificial insemination occurred and the former partner had consented and was an active supporter of the child. The court cited law which gives parental rights to husbands that give their consent for artificial insemination, pointing out that there was no difference between a heterosexual couple and a same-sex couple.

These two court decisions make it clear that in Massachusetts, two people who bring children into an established relationship have equal parenting rights regardless of whether or not they are biologically related. This indicates that formal adoption is not necessary to preserve legal claim if the children are born in the state of Massachusetts. It remains to be seen, however, whether the courts would make the same ruling for children who are not born in the state.