Putting Children First: More Courts Recognize Today’s Families
Ensuring that all children are secure and all families are recognized – no matter how they are formed – is a top priority at GLAD. That more and more states are recognizing the diversity of our families and ensuring protections for all children means we are making incredible progress in catching up the courts and the law to today’s families.
This past December, we celebrated a huge victory for children and families in Vermont, where the state’s highest court recognized that families are formed not only through biology, adoption or marriage but through intention, love and caring.
“I’m grateful my case could open the door to protections for so many families.”
In Sinnott v. Peck, the Vermont Supreme Court issued a groundbreaking ruling in favor of our plaintiff Sarah Sinnott, whose former partner sought to block her relationship with the daughter they jointly brought into their family through adoption.
Sarah and her former partner were in a committed relationship for seven years. During that time, the couple jointly planned for, adopted and raised their daughter, though for legal and logistical reasons, Sarah’s former partner was the sole adoptive parent. After their relationship ended, the couple continued to jointly parent for three years before Sarah’s former partner stopped allowing their daughter to see and be cared for by Sarah.
Sarah filed a Petition to Establish Parentage with the Vermont Superior Court, Family Division. The court declined to accept her filing, holding that Vermont law did not recognize parentage other than by married parents or those with a genetic or adoptive relationship to their child.
With co-counsel Sarah Star, GLAD Transgender Rights Project Director Jennifer Levi argued that Sarah meets the legal definition of a parent, and is entitled to seek custody under Vermont’s Parentage Act. And the Court agreed.
“This decision is child-centered, as it should be,” says Levi. “It protects parent-child relationships based on the loving bonds that create them, not based on legal formalities. The reality is that children in Vermont, as elsewhere, are being raised in many different types of families. This decision recognizes that, as more and more courts across the country are beginning to do.”
“I’m grateful my case could open the door to protections for so many families,” says Sinnott.
The ruling in Sinnott v. Peck is part of a growing trend of courts adopting modern approaches to recognizing our families. For instance, in October 2016 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in our case Partanen v. Gallagher, that non-married, non-biological parents can be recognized as their children’s full, legal parent.
As we continue to fight for these important court victories, GLAD is also advocating for other critical means of family recognition, from ensuring state policies follow such court rulings to advocating for parentage statues that reflect modern families. And GLAD also works with parents directly to help them navigate what can be complex legal terrain to understand their rights, and to find accessible resources to protect their families.
For example, although Partanen paved the way for unmarried, non-biological parents in Massachusetts to be recognized as full, legal parents, vital records such as Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage (VAP), which same-sex parents should be able to use to establish parentage, still reflect an antiquated view of families formed by same-sex couples. GLAD is currently advocating alongside two parents to spur the state to update its records to be more inclusive.
The two women have been in a committed, unmarried relationship for four years. They planned for and conceived their daughter through alternative insemination. One parent gave birth in December 2016, after the Partanen ruling, with her partner supporting her the entire way. They tried to fill out the birth certificate worksheet listing them both as parents, but the hospital said they couldn’t. GLAD Senior Staff Attorney Patience Crozier is working with them to get access to the VAP form to establish parentage simply and efficiently through this administrative procedure easily accessed by different-sex couples.
The courageous families and individuals pushing for the legal protection of their children are driving change, and we are proud to partner with them to ensure all children have the security, stability and love they need and deserve.