New York Court of Appeals Reverses Ruling to Allow Custody and Visitation Rights to Same-Sex Split Couples

The definition of a parent has finally changed. Same-sex couples in New York can now seek visitation rights and ask for custody of children.

The New York State Court of Appeals ruled in late August that caretakers who are not blood-related to the child, legal guardians, or adoptive parents could still see their children in various circumstances.

“The decision is a landmark in New York,” said Susan L. Sommer, national director of constitutional litigation at Lambda Legal and lawyer of Brooke S.B., who took on the state of New York.

Sommer added that the ruling brought the state “into line with the mainstream in the United States in recognizing that children frequently have a second parent not related to them by blood, adoption, or marriage.”

According to The New York Times, Brooke and Elizabeth announced their engagement in 2007, even though same-sex marriage was not yet legal in New York. A year later, they became pregnant through artificial insemination. Brooke had no biological or legal ties to the child, a boy, but she gave him her last name and helped raise with Elizabeth.

As Brooke and many others have seen, court-prescribed parenting plans and child support orders can be impersonal and inflexible. A collaborative approach with all parties involved can result in even unorthodox solutions to these issues.

In 2010, Brooke and Elizabeth split up and in 2013, Elizabeth tried to remove Brooke’s contact with their son. Brooke then sued for visitation and custody privileges, but a lower court turned her down. When the lower court ruled against Brooke, the court cited the case of Alison D. v. Virginia M. as a precedent for not defining a nonadaptive, nonbiological guardian as a parent.

The court’s Tuesday decision reversed that ruling.

“We have seen a trail of tears in New York involving these types of situations,” Sommer added. “Until now, the court’s hands were tied. This allows a far more humane New York.

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