GLAD Celebrates SJC Ruling Respecting and Protecting Non-marital Family Relationships

Unanimous decision ensures security of a voluntary acknowledgment of parentage for non-biological, non-marital parents—and underscores the need for more clarity in MA parentage law

GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) cheered the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s (SJC) recent ruling in J.M. v. C.G., which affirmed the validity of a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage (VAP) to establish and secure the parent-child relationship of a non-marital, non-biological father and his child. GLAD filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, supporting the legal father’s parentage as established by the VAP he and the child’s birth parent executed.

“Families today are formed in many different ways, and all children need and deserve the support and stability of a legally secure parent-child relationship,” said Polly Crozier, Director of Family Advocacy at GLAD. “A Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage (VAP) is a simple process that lets unmarried parents establish a legal relationship with their child immediately before or after the birth of a child. The SJC’s unanimous decision in J.M v. C.G. ensured the legal parentage of a loving, non-biological father established through a VAP was secure like any other VAP and not subject to attack long after the statutory deadline. As Chief Justice Kimberly S. Budd wrote for the Court, ‘A child’s interest is served by stable and supportive families of all types,’ and since the legal father had parented the child since infancy, ‘there undoubtedly is [a parent-child relationship] to protect regardless of the marital status of her parents.’”

“This decision emphasizes that parent-child relationships can develop and sometimes deserve legal protection without regard to whether the child was born to an unmarried couple or whether there is a genetic connection. The case also underscores the need to update the Commonwealth’s parentage laws so that they provide clear legal protections for all children and families, no matter how they are formed,” said Mary L. Bonauto, GLAD’s Senior Director of Civil Rights and Legal Strategies. “It is a reminder of the importance of updating our core parentage laws, and we’re hopeful this is the session to pass the Massachusetts Parentage Act (MPA, H 1713/S 947) so that all families are comprehensively protected.”

Under federal law, a VAP is the equivalent of a court decree of parentage and should be respected in all jurisdictions as a judgment. VAP forms are short affidavits in which an unmarried individual affirms that they want to be established as a legal parent with the rights and responsibilities of parentage. The person who gave birth to the child must also sign the form, in the presence of a notary or witness. It is the primary way that parentage is established in nonmarital families. 

The Court’s decision noted the importance of securing nonmarital families and relationships, stating that a person seeking to be recognized as a parent must demonstrate a “substantial parent-child relationship” in order to challenge legal parentage already determined through a VAP, just as they would if challenging legal parentage established through marriage. The court also made clear that “the best interests of the child is the primary purpose of the substantial parent-child relationship requirement,” and that “a child’s best interest is served by stable and supportive families of all types.”