Family Law Keyed to Weisbergback
Brief Fact Summary. Two unmarried women living together in a committed relationship conceived a child where the mother was artificially inseminated by the cousin of the other woman. The couple petitioned for adoption by the non-mother, who was actively raising the child along with the mother as her own.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The statutory law grants jurisdiction for the court to enter judgment on a joint petition for adoption brought by two unmarried cohabitants in the petitioners’ circumstances, and the statutory law does not require the mother to terminate her legal relationship to her daughter due to the proceeding.
Facts. Two unmarried women (Susan and Helen) filed a joint petition to adopt Tammy, a minor, who is Susan’s biological daughter. The two lived together in a permanent, committed relationship for more than ten years. They jointly purchased a house together, and both were successful physicians. The two planned to conceive a child biologically related to both of them, and Susan conceived the child through artificial insemination by Helen’s cousin. The women attended childbirth classes together, and Helen was present for the birth. Tammy’s birth certificate reflects the cousin as her biological father, but she was given a hyphenated surname using Susan and Helen’s last names. Since birth, Tammy has lived with, been raised and supported by Helen and Susan. Tammy has strong emotional and psychological bonds with both Helen and Susan. The cousin does not intend to be involved with Tammy, signed an adoption surrender, and supports the joint adoption by both women. The law does not p
ermit the women to enter into a legally cognizable marriage, but they believe that the best interests of the child require legal recognition of her identical emotional relationship to both women. Susan recognized that it might not be in her own long-term interest to permit the adoption because if the couple separated, Helen would have equal rights to primary custody. She indicated the adoption was important for both emotional security and potential inheritance. Over a dozen witnesses testified that the women participate equally in raising Tammy, that she relates to both women as her parents, and that the three form a healthy, happy, and stable family unit. The court found that the women are functioning, separately and together, as the custodial and psychological parents, and that it is the best interest of Tammy that she be adopted by both. The judge allowed the adoption, and reported to the Appeals Court all evidence and questions of law.
Issue. Did the court have jurisdiction under statutory law to enter judgment on a joint petition for adoption brought by two unmarried cohabitants in the petitioners’ circumstances?
Held. The statutory law does not bar the adoption by two unmarried cohabitants in the above described situation.
Nothing on the face of the statute precludes the joint adoption by two unmarried cohabitants. The statute does not expressly prohibit or require joinder by any person, and clearly absent is any prohibition of adoption by two unmarried individuals like the petitioner.
All requirements of the statute are met, and there is no question that the judge’s findings demonstrate that the directives of the statute and in case law have been satisfied. Adoption will serve to provide Tammy with a significant legal relationship, including inheritance, health insurance coverage, and social security benefits. Of equal or greater importance, it will preserve her unique filial ties to Helen in the event that Helen and Susan separate, or Susan predeceases Helen. In similar circumstances when the couple separates or one of the two dies, the children often remain in legal limbo without such adoption proceedings.
The judge also questioned whether Susan’s legal relationship to Tammy must be terminated if Tammy is adopted. The statute does not contain any express exceptions to its termination provision, but the Legislature obviously did not intend that a natural parent’s legal relationship to its child be terminated when the natural parent is a party to the adoption petition. The section is clearly directed to the more usual circumstances of adoption, where the child is adopted by persons who are not the child’s natural parents.
Discussion. The Court found that there was no statutory obstacle to adoption by the same sex couple, and that any apparent need for the mother’s legal relationship to be terminated was not legislatively intended. Further, the Court pointed out the beneficial legal protections that arise from such an adoption.