Sinnott v. Peck
Victory! On December 1, 2017, Vermont’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of Sarah Sinnott whose former partner sought to block her relationship with the daughter they jointly brought into their family through adoption. This decision is an important step forward for many families including those where parents are unmarried, where one does not have a genetic tie to a child, or, as in this case, where one parent formally does an adoption and the other does not.
This decision is child-centered, as the law should be. 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. All children need and deserve protection, security and stability. This decision recognizes that, as more and more courts across the country are beginning to do. It is a huge step forward in terms of protecting children throughout Vermont. – GLAD Transgender Rights Project Director Jennifer L. Levi
Update 7/1/17: This case was argued before the Vermont Supreme Court in May 2016, and we are currently awaiting a ruling.
GLAD is representing Sarah Sinnott, a non-biological mother in Vermont, whose former partner has sought to disrupt Sarah’s relationship with their two children. The former partner came into the relationship with one child adopted from Guatemala, then she and Sarah decided together to bring another child into the family. For complex legal and logistical reasons, the former partner was the sole adoptive parent. The two women were together and co-parented for 7 years, and continued to co-parent for quite some time after splitting up.
With local counsel Sarah Starr, GLAD is arguing at the VT Supreme Court that Sarah meets the legal definition of parent and is entitled to seek custody under Vermont’s Parentage Act.
I want the kids to know that they will have my continuing love and support throughout their lives, as well as that of my extended family. My hope is to be recognized legally as the parent that I am to my children. – Sarah Sinnott
Sarah Sinnott was born and raised in New York State, but many years ago was drawn to the natural beauty and congenial communities of Vermont. She has worked with parents of young children for 28 years, helping young, immigrant, and all kinds of families build a healthy and happy family environment.
Sarah was in a loving, committed relationship with Jennifer Peck for over seven years, starting in 2003. When they met, Jennifer was parenting a child (E) she had adopted, and Sarah was delighted, with Jenny’s encouragement, to be called “Mama” and to co-parent with her. The two women decided it would be a good idea for E to have a sibling, and Jenny adopted S when E was two. Both adoptions were international.
Sarah took maternity leave when S joined the family, and engaged in all of the diapering, night feeding, medical visits, and caregiving that early infancy demands – while also caring for a toddler. She also took the children to school and daycare, on visits with extended family, and well as on family vacations.
Sarah jointly parented with Jenny throughout their relationship and for more than three years after it ended. The two women voluntarily negotiated a shared custody arrangement, but over time, Jenny pulled back. Visits became erratic, and the children’s teachers were told not to communicate with Sarah. Aware of the importance of stability and continuity in children’s lives – especially adoptees – Sarah did her best to keep in touch through phone, texting, emails, and visits when allowed.
“I want the kids to know that they will have my continuing love and support throughout their lives, as well as that of my extended family,” said Sarah. “My hope is to be recognized legally as the parent that I am to my children.”
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