Best Interests of the Child – Evolving Family Law

Best Interests of the Child – In this next installment of the Columbia Teachers College series on professionals working within the LGBT community, I have the privilege of discussing dome of the recent case law that affects our families and we, as professionals, can better educate the circles in which we work.

 Family courts focus appropriately on the best interests of the child when attempting to determine such issues as custody and visitation in disputed matters.  This essential premise should inform their decision making processes.best interests of the child

Columbia Teachers College has created a series of videos for students who want to work with the LGBT community. I am privileged to have been featured as a mentor and to be able to tell my story. This video discusses the current law in New York, recent changes that have had an immeasurable impact on LGBT families and how the best interests of the child are paramount to a court’s adjudication of an issue.

There is no written “standard” for a best interests analysis. A judge will rely on several factors including,  familial stability, mental and physical health of the parents, drug or alcohol abuse, primary caretaker role, the ability of the parents to get along with one another and, depending on the child’s age, what the child believes is in their best interest.  The health and safety of the child are always the utmost consideration.  

I hope that you enjoy watching this video and, if you have any questions, do not hesitate to reach out to me through the contact form below.

timeforfamilies.com

 

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What Donor Conceived People Think of Donor Conception

The number of donor conceived children (donor sperm, donor egg, and donor embryo) is expanding.

In many ways it feels that we are standing on a precipice. We have such an opportunity in front of us to avoid some of the mistakes made in the past with both sperm donation and adoption, and yet I fear we are not learning.  Donor conceived children may have the answer.

The real experts on the best way to raise a child conceived by donor sperm, egg, or embryo are the adults that were conceived by donor conception way back in the day (or not so way back). I recently read the results of a fascinating survey of 82 donor conceived adults on We Are Donor Conceived.IVF

The people who responded to the survey were from around the world, mostly female (84%), raised by heterosexual parents (82%), and conceived by donor sperm (81 out of 82). They were born between 1954 and 2000, with 42% being born in the 1980s.

Donors and Donor Siblings are Important

According to We are Donor Conceived, 65% of respondents agree with the statement “My donor is half of who I am”. 94% indicated they often wonder what personality traits, skills, and/or physical similarities they share with their donor. 96% of respondents said they would like to know how many donor siblings they have, and a strong majority indicated they are open to forming a relationship with their donor (87%) or donor siblings (96%).

Eighty-six percent of the respondents thought that anonymous donation should not be allowed.

When Did They Find Out They Were Donor Conceived

The results on when they found out they were conceived by donor surprised me because I assumed that more of them would have found out later in life. The survey, however, found that 61% were five years or younger when they found out.

by Dawn Davenport, August 24, 2017 – Creatingafamily.org

Click here to read the entire article.

MY KIDS MAY NOT HAVE A DAD, BUT PLEASE DON’T FEEL SORRY FOR THEM ON FATHER’S DAY

“Who pretended to be Eva’s dad today?”

This question was asked by my 6-year-old daughter’s best friend. While few things shock me these days, I was taken back by his question. Eva’s best friend is also 6 and has known her and our two-mom family for almost as long as he has been alive.

“Eva doesn’t have a dad. She has two moms. You know that.” Before I could process why he asked his question, I answered him a bit too bluntly. He wasn’t attacking me, but I felt under attack — and my initial response was not one that helped him process what he wanted to understand.

“I know,” he said. “But who came to school for Dads and Donuts?”Florist

Father’s Day. I forgot that, much like for Mother’s Day, the schoolkids would be creating artwork and poems to send home. I forgot that some classrooms would be hosting breakfast for dads, roasting and honoring them at the same time. I forgot because I haven’t talked to my own father in nearly 20 years and Father’s Day is not on my radar. I forgot because I am up to my ears in end-of-the-school-year events and summer camp prep. I forgot because my kids don’t celebrate Father’s Day.

Shortly before our daughter turned 3, we began to talk to her about how she was created through love, her mama’s egg, and a sperm donor. She, and our 4-year-old twins, will proudly and correctly tell you they came from an egg and sperm. We don’t get into the logistics of how those two things met (doctor-assisted intrauterine insemination using frozen sperm for those of you who are curious). But we openly and honestly talk about how our family was made. Our kids will also tell you about their brother and sisters who live in another state; they are donor siblings who were born from the same anonymous sperm and whose parents we met through the cryobank’s sibling registry.

We know our kids feel loved, and that they are as proud of their family as any other children who are more focused on their own needs and wants than on the reflection of sacrifices made by their loving parents. Yet, as much as our kids are like any other kids, their normal is not “normal.” At least, not to some people. And when our kids meet new friends who are unaware that they have two moms, or when Father’s Day rolls around each year, they are not just reminded that they don’t have a dad — but that society expects them to have one.

Once I realized the motivation behind my daughter’s friend’s question, I softened. “Ah! Your dad came to school for Father’s Day donuts. Eva’s class didn’t host a breakfast. But she may have made something for her Pop-Pop.”

We have always told our kids’ teachers that when Father’s Day projects are being made that it’s okay to acknowledge that they will not be making one for a father of their own. They can make one for my partner’s father, their amazing Pop-Pop. Or they can make one for any one of a number of amazing friends and dads who are in our life. Just because they don’t have a father doesn’t mean we don’t have good men in our lives and great dads to celebrate.

by Amber Leventry, babble.com

Click here to read the entire article.

The LGBT Trump Disconnect

The LGBT Trump disconnect is real and attention must be paid to what appears to be the beginning of a not so veiled assault on LGBT rights in America.

First, I must say that there is an LGBT Trump disconnect.  Since I wrote my first piece about LGBT family rights in the Trump presidency, a lot has changed.  I have heard from many people, and I myself wanted to believe, that Trump wouldn’t touch the LGBT gains that we have made during the Obama years.  But his actions have proven different.  His appointments, activity in state courts and the often unintelligible rhetoric we have become accustomed, all suggest that we may not be as safe as some thought we were.

The Appointment Problem – My greatest fears about Trump’s appointments center around the Department of Justice (DOJ), and more specifically, around the civil rights division of the that agency.  First, the long and telling history of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, the Republican Senator from Alabama who President Trump has tapped to lead the DOJ, is troubling for many more that just LGBT Americans.  According to The Washington Post, Jeff Sessions has claimed to be a civil rights champion, yet he has overstated his experience and, in some cases, lied altogether about his involvement.  Sessions has spent the majority of his career attempting to undermine LGBT equality, the details of which are numerous and troubling.

But the worst of this story is that President Trump has chosen John M. Gore to head the DOJ’s Civil Right s division.  Mr. Gore, prior to this nomination, was in the process of defending North Carolina’s odious trans-bathroom bill.  Prior to that, he defended Republican efforts to gerrymander congressional districts in violation of the civil rights of minority Americans.       This is not only putting the fox in charge of the hen house, but the hens in this analogy are real people who have had their civil rights violated in what should be the most fundamental right this country possesses – the right to vote.  How can they now trust that their best interests will be defended by a person who, up to now, has made a career out of challenging these fundamental rights?

The Visibility Problem – One of the first signs that there might be a distance between Trump’s “accepting” rhetoric toward the LGBT community during the campaign and what he plans to do as president appeared, or rather disappeared, within the first hour after he was sworn in.  The official White House website, www.whitehouse.gov, removed the LGBT rights page which had been there throughout Obama’s last term, and before.  No explanation was given, however, the pro-Trump Twittersphere rejoiced.LGBT Trump

In an equally expedient manner, all data regarding climate change was removed as well from the whitehouse.gov site.  As most LGBT Americans are not one issue voters, this deletion concerned me as much as the LGBT page being removed.  “Out of sight, out of mind,” seems to be the rule of law now.

The Marriage Issue – I referred earlier to things having changed since I wrote LGBT Family Rights in a Trump Presidency.  At that time, the Supreme Court of Texas had declined to re-hear a case which would abolish benefits that the City of Houston provides to same-sex married couples. Literally on Trump’s inauguration day, the Supreme Court of Texas changed its mind, under GOP pressure.  The Republican Governor of Texas himself wrote a brief to the court asking them to reconsider, essentially arguing that the Obergefell Supreme Court marriage decision does not apply to Texas.  In that brief, the Governor wrote of the “Federal Tyranny” of the courts and that Obergefell does not require that same-sex married couples and different-sex married couples receive equal treatment under the law.

In my previous article, I was originally at a loss for identifying a case with a fact pattern that would make it to the Supreme Court which would have the effect of etching away at the Obergefell marriage decision.  This Texas case may be just that.  It would undoubtedly take time to make it to the Supreme Court, and who knows what its makeup will be then.  But the anti-marriage movement’s argument is in development and may take the same amount of time to get its legs.  The Arkansas Supreme Court issued a decision based on the above mentioned logic denying same-sex couples that right to be listed on their children’s birth certificates.  The issue is now before us and we cannot afford to stop paying attention.

After attending the Women’s March in Washington this last weekend, I left with a renewed sense of hope and possibility.  Hundreds of thousands of people made the impossible seem possible.  The greatest lesson that I took from my experience there was that no matter how generous I may have felt before in giving President Trump a chance to govern, I cannot forget, nor should any of us, that he won the election by dividing the country and making it clear that some people were simply not welcome.  Those are not “alternate facts.”  Those are the facts.  

This is the LGBT Trump disconnect.  I fear now that my beloved LGBT community has taken its place among women, black people, brown people, Muslim people and immigrant communities that were so vilified during the election and may have no voice in the Trump administration.  I hope that the LGBT Trump disconnect is a myth, but if past is prologue, we have no option other than to pay attention, remain engaged and share our feelings with everyone we can. 

For more information, visit www.timeforfamilies.com, or email me at Anthony@timeforfamilies.com.  

 

Update – 1/30/2017 – As of Friday, January 27, 2017, the Trump administration has reacted to outrage regarding the removal of climate change information from the Environmental Protection Agency’s website by restoring that information on to the EPA website.  All LGBT information remains missing from the whitehouse.gov site.

 

Update – 2/23/2017 – As of Thursday, February 23, 2017, the Trump administration rescinded protections for transgendered students in public schools.

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New York’s Changing Family Law

New York’s changing family law finally appears to be catching up to the realities of LGBT families, at least incrementally.

A series of decisions from various New York courts is informing New York’s changing family law in ways never before imagined. Currently, in Manhattan, a court is struggling with how best to protect a child born in Ethiopia, which would only allow a single mother to adopt, now that his lesbian parents have split up.  Another recent decision out of the Kings County Family Court is one of the first to acknowledge the complexities of how we create our families, and offers sage advice as to how best we can protect them.

New York's changing family law

This new line of cases comes hot on the heels of the New York Court of Appeals case known as The Matter of Brooke S.B., which I have written about extensively.  Up until this decision, many lesbian parents who had not adopted the biological children of their partners or spouses were considered legal strangers to the children that they had raised since birth.  They were blocked by the court from seeking custody and visitation when their relationships faltered.  The Matter of Brooke S.B brings New York’s changing family law in line with many other states which recognize “de facto” parents for the purpose of custody and visitation and prioritizes the best interests of the child in making these critical decisions.

The court in Brooke S.B. was careful not to expand the definition of parentage beyond the facts of each specific case, which means that we will be seeing more and more litigation attempting to address situations that do not fall squarely in the fact pattern of Brooke S.B., like the current case in Manhattan.

In a move to address confusion created by a 2013 decision from Kings County Surrogates Court, where Judge Margarita Lopez Torres denied a lesbian couple a step parent adoption because she held that a marital presumption of parentage existed when a  child is born to a married couple, Brooklyn Family Court has offered its opinion.  New York’s Appellate division, Second Department held the opposite of Lopez Torres (Paczkowski v. Paczkowski, — N.Y.S.3d —- (2015)), creating much confusion for the LGBT community.  Brooklyn Family Court Judicial Hearing Officer (JHO) Harold Ross, in a decision titled The Matter of L., et. al, held that as long as uncertainty exists for LGBT couples who create their families with assisted reproductive technology (ART), then second parent adoptions are the best way to secure those families from this uncertainty.

The bottom line of New York’s changing family law is that with each new case that tests the limits of the court’s definition of family, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars will be spent to “make new law,” when there already exists a remedy that is affordable and is respected across the country and around the world, second and step parent adoption.  The process may be time consuming but the benefit is priceless and I believe that JHO Ross understood this and made New York’s changing family law easier for us all to grasp.

For more information, contact Anthony@timeforfamilies.com.

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Arizona Appeals Court ruling: Birth mom’s same-sex ex has parental rights

The same-sex spouse of a birth mother is entitled to the same legal parental presumptions and rights as if she were a man, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

PHOENIX — In the first case of its kind in Arizona, the judges rejected the arguments by the biological mother of a child that the Arizona laws determining who is legally presumed the parent of a child only apply when that other person is a male. That, however, undermines the historic 2014 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that same-sex marriages are entitled to the same legal protections as traditional heterosexual unions, Appellate Judge Philip Espinosa said.lesbian family law

What makes that important is that Arizona law spells out that a man is presumed to be the father of a child if he and the mother were married at any time within 10 months immediately preceding the birth. Tuesday’s ruling, unless overturned by the Arizona Supreme Court, means that while the law was written with a father in mind, judges now have to read it to apply regardless of the other parent’s gender.

The case involves Kimberly McLaughlin and Suzan McLaughlin, who were legally married in 2008 in California.

The couple agreed to have a child through artificial insemination using an anonymous sperm donor, court records show. Kimberly McLaughlin became pregnant in 2010.

Tucson.com, by Howard Fischer – October 12, 2016

Click here to read the entire article.

Considering Known Sperm Donors

Lesbian couples are choosing known sperm donors in increasing numbers for a variety of very important reasons. Your choice now can make a big difference in your child’s life.

Known sperm donors are a much more viable option for lesbian couples today than they have ever been.  What greater decision can there be than the biological parent of your child? Choosing an anonymous sperm donor used to be the norm.  There are many reasons why known sperm donors are becoming the preference for lesbian couples and this article explores some of the most important ones.

One of the most cited reasons for choosing known sperm donors is to have a greater insight into the biology of your child. Having a known sperm donor’s medical history can be critical for mothers who have medical or genetic issues that they must consider before having a child.  An anonymous sperm donor file will provide some medical information, but a known donor can share his family medical history, which may be crucial for the health of your child.remarkable parenting

While medical considerations are one of the top reasons for having a known donor, knowing the emotional and social character of the donor is also an often overlooked consideration in many people’s path to parenthood.  No anonymous donor profile can show the complete picture of the person who may be the biological father of your child.

Legal considerations are also important reasons to choose between anonymous donors and known sperm donors. Anonymous donors surrender their parental rights to any children born with their genetic material upon deposit to a sperm bank or fertility clinic.  When you choose an anonymous donor, they may offer the option of allowing the child to contact them at age 18, but there is no question as to their lack of parental rights to that child.

Known sperm donors in many states, New York included, must surrender their parental rights to a child born with their genetic material after the birth of that child.  And if the mother is a single parent by choice, the known donor in many states may not surrender their parental rights at all.

In New York, as in most states, the best interest of a child is considered when allowing a genetic parent surrender their parental rights. If a known donor is surrendering his parental rights to the spouse or partner of the mother, then the court will authorize that surrender.  If, however, there is no other parent who will be assuming parental rights, the known donor cannot surrender their parental rights and will be able to sue for custody and visitation.  The mother will also be able to sue that known donor for child support.  This is the most important reason why single mothers by choice should use an anonymous donor.

One reason why lesbian moms are choosing known sperm donors is for the emotional health of their children later in life. Many studies show that the more a child knows about their biological background, be they adopted, a child through surrogacy or through known or anonymous sperm donation, the better adjusted they are as adults.  These same studies also show high satisfaction levels in the mothers who have chosen known sperm donors.

One other consideration in choosing a known sperm donor is where they live. If you envision a known donor as a parental figure in your child’s life with a more active role, the donor must be geographically able to fill that role.

Finally, many mothers choose between known and anonymous donors because of the degree of control they wish to have over their family formation. Choosing a known donor can be tricky and many mothers prefer to maintain the kind of parental control over their family that can only be experienced with an anonymous donor.

Whether you are considering known sperm donors to help you create your family or whether anonymous donors are right for you, the most important part of this decision is that you and your spouse or partner are comfortable with it and on the same page. For more information about known sperm donation and the legalities surrounding our families, contact Anthony@timeforfamilies.com or visit www.timeforfamilies.com today.

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Same-Sex Couples and Their Children Speak Out: ‘My Family Is Just as Good as Anyone Else’s’

First comes love, then comes marriage—same sex couples and everyone knows what happens after that.

Children are the expected outcome of matrimony. Now that gay marriages are legal, the kids of their unions are subject to even more scrutiny, on top of the years of criticism from socially conservative groups like Focus on the Family and Americans for Truth About Homosexuality.

But according to a recent study in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, the kids are more than just all right; many of them are thriving. While the study focused on the biological children of lesbian households, there’s been tons of research—73 studies, meticulously reviewed by other social scientists—proving that stable same-sex partnerships, just like heterosexual ones, produce physically and emotionally healthy kids. The Root spoke to four same-gender families about the three factors they believe fuel their success.

Family Planning

According to LGBTQ-advocacy organizations like the Family Equality Council, successful gay families are often especially deliberate about planning for children. And many of those families are multiracial, with white parents raising kids of color. Gary Gates, retired research director of the Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law, a research center focused on sexual orientation and gender-identity law and policy, found that among white long-term couples raising children under age 18, 17 percent of single-sex couples have at least one nonwhite child, compared with 3 percent of different-gendered couples. In fact, single-sex white couples are more than five times more likely than their different-gendered counterparts to be raising nonwhite children.more gay couples are embracing surrogacy

Race mattered not for white-and-Latino couple Eva Smith, 44, and Liz Fuentes, 46, of South Orange, N.J., who are using pseudonyms to protect their African-American children’s privacy. Parenting was an essential part of becoming a family, as was careful planning.

“As a woman, [wanting children] was almost innate for me,” says Smith, who has been with Fuentes for 20 years. “I wanted to be a mom, and there are so many children out there who need loving families—we weren’t concerned with the genetics.”

Ten years ago, the couple began the adoption process of their two black sons, Peter and Adam, both age 10. After completing nearby New York’s rigorous process of workshops designed to prepare parents for adoption, which includes extensive background checks, a home study and home inspection, Smith and Fuentes were matched twice by the state with foster children they eventually adopted. The family have since relocated from the busy streets of Brooklyn, N.Y., to the quieter New Jersey suburbs to give their children the best possible quality of life and access to competitive schools that could address the boys’ developmental delays.

Sometimes a child’s geographic upbringing can be both a help and a hindrance. Growing up in rural Maine, for instance, gave Family Equality Council Co-Interim Executive Director Brent Wright, who is white, a quiet life, but left his desire to be a father “a dream deferred” because he’d never seen any gay families. As his community evolved and changed, so did his prospects for parenthood. He and his husband, Sandis, who have been together for 25 years and live in Andover, Mass., with their two black daughters, went forward with adoption after months of classes and meetings with clergy, mentors with social services experience and people of color.

“[We] had a really good grounding in the importance of cultural respect and understanding what it means to transracially adopt,” says Wright. Their girls, Olivia and Noelle, are 7 and 2 and participate in gymnastics, theater and ballet.

lesbian family law

drawing of a happy couple of lesbians and adopted child

Honest Conversations

Though today’s climate for LGBTQ families is stronger than in years past, parents must prepare themselves and their children for the realities of intolerance and hatred of all kinds. Yvonne and Rebecca Johnson, both 33, are a black lesbian couple raising their sons, Raphael, 12, and George, 14, who are Yvonne’s biological children. They live in Columbus, Ga., where their closest neighbor has a Confederate flag proudly on display. (The family’s names have been changed to prevent personal and professional backlash in their conservative hometown.)

“When the kids were young, we explained to them that people might say or do hurtful things [because of our family],” says Yvonne Johnson.

George, a ninth-grader with a passion for acting, is grateful for the confidence instilled by such conversations.

by Tamika Anderson, May 17, 2016 – TheRoot.com

Click here to read the entire article.

As a Gay Woman, I Thought I’d Never Have Kids – but I Was Wrong

We had some challenges, but we got a happy ending.  A lesbian mom journeys toward family.

I’d always wanted a baby or two (or more). For me, a lesbian mom, it just wasn’t a question of if I get pregnant but when. In my daydreams, I’d see myself picking my son and daughter up from the school bus to walk our treelined block until we reached our Colonial-style home. I’d open the gate of the white picket fence, they’d rush in, drop their backpacks and the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies would greet them as they entered.

All of that.

But I’m gay.parent adoption

When I came out at the age of 16, those fantasies weren’t so realistic anymore. I just didn’t think getting pregnant could happen for me. The desire was still in my heart, but I was unsure if it would — or could — become a reality. I was missing one super obvious and important ingredient in the baby-making process: sperm.

I met my would-be wife when I was 26. On our first date, I told her of my lifelong dream to get pregnant and have kids. She told me she vaguely thought about adopting a child — and only one child. When we got married three years later, I told my wife how quickly I wanted us to try to conceive. She needed longer to settle into the idea. For her, things were moving quickly. Not to mention, we would have to finance the pregnancy.

We started to talk about getting sperm from a known donor versus an unknown donor.

For us, the best option was to go with the recommendation of our friends — fellow lesbians who were either trying to conceive, or who had just finished or had started but had never had a successful pregnancy. They recommended reputable sperm banks long before my wife and I actually ever walked into our reproductive endocrinology clinic. Luckily, our newfound clinic recommended the same sperm bank as our friends, and we eased into the process of searching for a donor. When we were seriously looking, we created a user profile. Doing so, I felt, made the process real to me.

Even so, we still contemplated going with a known donor. We thought, Hey, wouldn’t it be great if our kid could have access to the knowledge of his/her biological make-up? But our doctors reminded us of all of the legal issues which could ensue if our friend (potential known sperm donor) decided he wanted rights to his child. We didn’t want to go to court nor did we want to subject our own mental health or the livelihood of our family to the ramifications of such a decision.

Our decision to go with a donor who chose to be anonymous was our ultimate decision. This meant that any child we conceived in the in vitro process would never get to know his or her biological father. If we went with a known sperm donor from the cryobank, that child would have the legal right to meet him once they reach the age of 18. With my wife being Sri Lankan and I African-American, we knew we wanted a Sri Lankan donor since I’d be the one to carry our child.

Once we decided on the cryobank, we had access to so much information about the sperm donor. We knew his ethnicity, height, weight, and even his astrological sign — all of this information is available before making the expensive purchase of sperm.

Cosmopolitan – By , Apr 29, 2016

Click here to read the entire article.

Two Moms Talk About Second Parent Adoption

Not all LGBT parents in the U.S. can put both parents’ names on their children’s birth certificate.  Second Parent adoption can help.

And even if they can, many lawyers still advise that gay couples go through a second parent adoption as a means to protect their parental rights to their children.

Brandy and Susan from The Next Family discuss their second parent adoption experience so other LGBT parents can gain some insight.

The moms explain the importance of second parent adoption by providing the example of traveling internationally to countries that don’t recognize same-sex marriage or families. By going through the process, step parent adoptions give both parents the same rights to their children thus protecting them in the U.S., overseas, and even in custody cases.second parent adoption

“And at the end of the day, I think it’s wise to do it,” Brandy said.

Though she does share her displeasure with the entire process that LGBT parents have to go through that straight parents do not:

“We fight so hard for our LGBT rights and we’ve gotten to this point and this place in our country…and [step parent adoptions] sort of takes you back. Like, really?”

Brandy and Susan explain the process that their family went through when it came to their step parent adoption. It involved finding a good lawyer, filling out an adoption application, and speaking with a social worker.

When speaking about the social worker experience, Brandy said, “They were asking us sort of ridiculous, in my opinion, parenting questions.” She also adds that you should prepare yourself for this experience which may be uncomfortable: “I think it was really insulting to me that they were asking her these questions and me these questions and I had had this child and we had together made this decision together to have this child.”

Following the social worker meeting, families will have to go to court to complete the adoption process.

For Susan’s court date, the judge asked her, “Why should I grant you this right to adopt this child?” Susan said she responded quite awkwardly with, “Well, I’m kind of doing a lot of mother things.” She was happy though with how the judge responded, “You’re the mother and that’s why I’m doing it.” Susan said she could tell that the judge thought that the entire process was also a “silly precursor” to establish her parental rights.

Click here to read the entire article.

By Alex Temblador – TheNextFamily.com – April 15, 2016