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Appeals panel rules former same-sex partner has standing to seek visitation

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A former same-sex domestic partner of a woman who gave birth to a child has standing to seek visitation, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Thursday, reversing a trial court in an opinion begging lawmakers to speak to the rights of same-sex couples in parenting disputes.

In a 21-page order, the court ruled in A.C. v. N.J.,  20A04-1301-DR-37, that partner A.C. had standing to seek visitation under King v. S.B., 837 N.E.2d 965 (Ind. 2005). The court, however, could find no caselaw or legislative guidance to reverse trial court rulings denying A.C’s request for joint custody or to enforce the couple’s prior agreement that both parties would act as the child’s parent.

Relying on the King decision, the panel found an opening to grant standing to third-party non-biological parents to seek visitation. But that same Supreme Court ruling also vacated a COA holding that “when two women involved in a domestic relationship agree to bear and raise a child together by artificial insemination … both women are the legal parents of the resulting child.”

Judge Ezra Friedlander wrote that courts and lawmakers have been loathe to address societal changes, leaving parents and children of same-sex couples in legal limbo when relationships end.

“Since King, 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.”

“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.

“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 roadmap 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.”

Declining to find that A.C. had the same rights as a biological parent to seek joint custody, Friedlander wrote that the decision in the King line of cases controls. “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,” he wrote.

 

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