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Oral Arguments Heard in Case Addressing Legal Relationship of Children and Non-Biological Mother

Oral arguments were heard today by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) in Partanen v. Gallagher, a case involving legal parentage for a non-birth mother who, with her former partner, mutually agreed to have children by means of assisted reproduction and then raised the children together. GLAD and co-counsel represent Karen Partanen, the non-birth mother.  Julie Gallagher, Karen’s former partner, has opposed Karen’s efforts to be recognized as a legal parent of the children they brought into the world and raised together until they separated.

“These children have had a Mommy, Karen, and a Mama, Julie for their whole lives and have deep bonds with each.  Fortunately, the parentage laws provide a backstop so that children born to unmarried adults can obtain a determination of parentage and secure appropriate support, custody and visitation,” said Mary L. Bonauto of GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, who argued on behalf of Karen before the SJC today. “These child-centered laws should protect children born from assisted reproduction, whether their parents are a same-sex or different-sex couple.”

This case is a matter of first impression under Massachusetts parentage laws.  As it stands, the law says that when unmarried parents have and raise a child together in their home and hold out the child as their child to the community, then the non-birth parent is presumed to be a legal parent.  Karen and Julie held themselves out as the children’s parents to the children, each other, the community, third parties, and on official forms.  Gallagher now claims the presumption evaporates without proof of a biological connection, but GLAD says the law is broader.  In addition, Massachusetts policies favor immediate legal parentage for children born to married couples who use assisted reproduction.  GLAD says that policy must apply here to ensure equal treatment of all children without regard to their parents’ marital status, as state law and constitutional commands require.

Julie Gallagher and Karen Partanen were a couple for nearly 13 years. They met in Massachusetts and later moved to Florida.  While living there, they bought a home and decided to have children together.  When Karen was unable to become pregnant, the couple decided that Julie would be the one to give birth.  With Karen’s consent and full involvement, Julie conceived two children through assisted reproduction, and they parented them together.  Karen and Julie later moved back to Massachusetts and separated.  Their two children are now 4 and 7.

Upon their separation, Karen filed two complaints: one to be declared a “de facto” parent, which currently provides for rights of visitation but does not confer the full legal and familial advantages of parenthood on the children, and another to be declared a full, legal parent under existing Massachusetts laws, which would acknowledge her role and her responsibilities to the children. Julie has opposed the complaint. “I grew up in a large family, and that sense of family and permanency is what I want for my children,” said Karen.

The complaint to establish legal parentage was dismissed by the trial court in March 2015 and is the focus of this appeal, which was taken on direct review by the SJC.

“People feel no need to involve the legal system in their lives when things are going well, but adult relationships change, and when they do, families can be legally vulnerable – and the children are particularly vulnerable,” said Bonauto.  “Karen’s children must have the same rights as other non-marital children, including the stability, care, protection, support and legal rights.”

In addition to Bonauto, Karen is represented by Patience Crozier of Kauffman Crozier LLP, Elizabeth Roberts of Todd & Weld LLP, and Teresa Harkins La Vita of La Vita Law Center.