I am back from a much needed warm weather winter vacation with the family. Now, back to blogging.
While I was away, Justice Laura Drager rendered an important decision in the case Beth R. v. Donna M. Following the decision in Martinez v. Monroe County, which I discussed here, Justice Drager ruled that a same-sex marriage, validly entered into in a jurisdiction that allows same-sex marriages, would be entitled to full legal recognition in New York. This is the first time that a New York court recognized a same sex marriage in the context of a same-sex divorce action.
The decision went further, applying the expanding theory of equitable estoppel, to address the issue as to whether Beth’s motion for declaration of her parental rights can be entertained by the court since she did not legally adopt the two children but served as their mother in fact. The Court concluded that “the facts here warrant granting Plaintiff’s motion to enable this court to determine whether the best interests of the children warrant granting custodial rights to Plaintiff.
As pointed out in the Leonard Link:
Although Defendant did not allow the adoption of the children, she held out Plaintiff to the world, and most important, to the children, as their parent. The children were given Plaintiff’s last name. The birth announcements presented Plaintiff as the parent of each child. J.R. [the older child] was encouraged to call Plaintiff ‘mom’ and Plaintiff’s relatives by familial titles. The extended families of each party were encouraged to treat Plaintiff as a parent. Defendant held out Plaintiff as a parent to the children’s nanny, doctor and J.R.’s teachers and school administrators. Defendant accepted health insurance and financial contributions from Plaintiff for the benefit of the children.
And, of course, there is the marriage. “Although Defendant seeks to minimize the significance of the act of marriage, the law does not share her view. Marriage is ‘a status founded on contract and established by law. It constitutes an institution involving the highest interests of society. It is regulated and controlled by law based upon principles of public policy affecting the welfare of the people of the State.’ Fearon v. Treanor, 272 NY 268, 272 (1936). As a result of being married, Plaintiff may be constrained to provide support for the Defendant and Defendant would be a recipient of a portion of Plaintiff’s estate. These factors significantly affect the children’s welfare. Moreover, although people enter into marriages for many reasons, creating familial bonds is one of the most significant reasons, particularly for the benefit of their children. The parties here were clearly committed to becoming married, having traveled twice to Canada and having obtained two marriage licenses. It is noteworthy that the Defendant voluntarily entered into the marriage after her first child was born. Furthermore, as Plaintiff argues, the artificial insemination during the marriage resulting in the birth of S.R. may require a finding that she is the legitimate child of both parents.”
Justice Drager also notes that by age three a child “clearly identifies with parental figures” and so J.R. could be harmed by suddenly terminating his relationship with Beth, and it is “conceiveable” that young S.R. could be harmed as well. And, of course, both children would suffer potential economic harm due to loss of support.
Now that the door is open to the judicial acceptance of same sex marriage, it will be interesting to see how the law evolves to provide for same-sex divorce.