Disappointed Gay Dad Asks Supreme Court to Overturn Key New York LGBT Family Law Precedent, Brooke S.B.

Disappointed Gay Dad Asks Supreme Court to Overturn Brooke S.B., aKey New York LGBT Family Law Precedent

In Brooke S.B. v. Elizabeth A.C.C., 61 N.E.3d 488 (2016), the New York Court of Appeals overruled a 25-year-old precedent and held that when there is clear and convincing evidence that a same-sex couple agreed to have a child and raise the child together, where only one of them will be the child’s biological parent, and both of the parties performed parental duties and bonded with the children, the other parent would have the same rights as the biological parent in a later custody dispute.overturn Brooke S.B.

Now a gay biological dad who lost custody of twins to his former same-sex partner by application of the Brooke S.B. precedent asked the U.S. Supreme Court on May 10 to rule that his 14th Amendment Due Process rights have been violated. Frank G. v. Joseph P. & Renee P.F., No. 18–1431 (Filed May 10, 2019); Renee P.F. v. Frank G., 79 N.Y.S.3d 45 (App. Div., 2nd Dep’t, May 30, 2018), leave to appeal denied, 32 N.Y.3d 910 (N.Y.C.A., Dec. 11, 2018).

Frank G. and Joseph P. lived together in a same-sex relationship in New York and made a joint decision to have a child. Joseph P.’s sister, Renee, had previously volunteered to be a surrogate for her gay brother, both donating her eggs and bearing the resulting child or children. Renee became pregnant through assisted reproductive technology using Frank’s sperm. The three entered into a written agreement under which Renee would surrender parental rights but would be involved with the resulting child or children as their aunt.

After the twins were born, both men participated in parenting duties. Joseph sought to adopt the twins under New York’s second-parent adoption rules, and he remembered completing paperwork that Frank was supposed to complete and submit, but that never happened. The men were not sexually exclusive and eventually arguments about Frank’s sexual activities led to Joseph moving out. He continued to have regular contact with the children until Frank suddenly cut off contact after another argument. Frank subsequently moved with the children to Florida in December 2014. Frank did not notify Joseph or Renee of that move. When they found out, Joseph filed a guardianship petition. (Under New York precedents at the time, he did not have standing to file a custody petition.)

As lower court rulings were questioning the old New York precedent, Joseph withdrew his guardianship petition and both he and Renee filed custody petitions. Renee clearly had standing to seek custody as the biological mother who had remained in contact with the children.

Frank moved to dismiss the custody lawsuit, but the trial judge, Orange County Family Court Judge Lori Currier Woods, rejected the motion, holding that both Joseph and Renee had standing to seek custody and ordering temporary visitation rights for Joseph and Renee while the case was proceeding. Frank appealed to the Appellate Division, 2nd Department. While his appeal was pending, the Court of Appeals decided Brooke S.B.. Applying that case, the Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s standing decision in favor of Joseph and Renee and returned the case to Judge Woods.

After a lengthy trial, which the trial court’s unpublished opinion (reprinted in the Appendix to the cert petition) summarizes in detail, the trial court awarded custody to Joseph, with visitation rights for Frank. Frank appealed again. The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s order. Frank unsuccessfully sought review by the New York Court of Appeals.

Frank is represented on the Supreme Court petition by Gene C. Schaerr of the Washington, D.C. firm of Schaerr/Jaffe LLP. Schaerr, a Federalist Society stalwart and a Mormon from Utah, where he graduated from Brigham Young University’s Law School, was prominently involved in the marriage equality battle, representing the state of Utah in defending its ban on same-sex in federal court, and he submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges on behalf of conservative legal scholars who argued that allowing same-sex marriage would be harmful to the institution of marriage, presenting social statistics from Europe purporting to show that the adoption of same-sex marriage in some countries caused rates of heterosexual marriage to fall. Social scientists have contended that the downward trend in marriage rates in Europe was well under way long before the countries in question extended legal recognition to same-sex relationships, and causation was not shown. In other words, Schaerr is an anti-LGBT cause lawyer, and the slanting of facts recited in the Petition for Frank as compared to the detailed fact findings summarized in the trial court’s unpublished opinion, which is appended to the cert Petition, is striking.

Family law is primarily a matter of state law, but the U.S. Supreme Court occasionally gets involved in family law disputes that raise constitutional issues. Since early in the 20th century, the Supreme Court has ruled that a legal parent of a child has constitutional rights, derived from the Due Process Clause, relating to custody and childrearing. The Petition argues that the rule adopted by the New York Court of Appeals and the appellate courts of some other states, recognizing parental status for purposes of custody disputes between unmarried same-sex partners, improperly abridges the Due Process rights of the biological parents.

Some state courts have issued decisions similar to Brooke S.B., while others have refused to recognize standing for unmarried same-sex partners to seek custody. There is definitely a split of authority on the issue, but it is not necessarily the kind of split that would induce the Supreme Court to take a case. The Supreme Court is most concerned with variant interpretations of federal statutes or of the U.S. Constitution, but the state court cases addressing the issue of same-sex partner standing have generally not discussed constitutional issues and have reached their conclusions as an interpretation of their state custody statutes. Although it is true that same-sex partner parental rights vary as between different states, this does not necessary create the kind of patchwork as to federal rights upon which the Court would focus.

TheMedium.com, by Art Leonard, July 12, 2019

Click here overturn Brooke S.B. to read the entire article.

New York Family Law, Matter of Brooke S.B.

Late August 2016 marked a turning point for New York family law and how it defines parents, particularly lesbian parents.

What the court decided – Up until this decision, many lesbian parents who had not adopted the biological children or their partners or spouses were considered legal strangers to the children that many of them had raised since birth.  Under previous New York family law, these non-biological and non-adoptive parents could not seek the legal system’s assistance in gaining custody, or even visitation, to the children who they helped to raise.

All that changed last month with a court case known as In the Matter of Brooke S.B. v. Elizabeth A.  C.C.  In this landmark decision, the court overturned previous New York precedent that had torn families apart for decades and ruled that non-biological and non-adoptive parents did have standing to sue for custody and visitation in the New York family court system.  This brings New York 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.remarkable parenting

What this decision does not address? – The court was careful to base its decision on the specific facts of this case, which included one very important element: the fact that the couple agreed in advance to the conception of the child.  What this means is that if a lesbian couple has children but the non-biological or non-adoptive parent entered the picture after the conception of the child, then she would not fall under the definition of a “de facto” parent as stated in this case.  Also, if the non-biological, non-adoptive parent did not consent to the conception of the child by clear and convincing evidence, she would be forestalled from seeking custody or visitation.

It is also critical to note that the court did not explicitly state that the non-biological, non-adoption mother was a legal parent of a child born to her spouse or partner for all purposes, just that she could seek custody and visitation if she had consented to the conception.  This case also did not explicitly address the notion of the marital presumption of parentage, which a mid-level appellate court has held not to apply to same-sex couples.  This concept holds that the spouse of a married woman is automatically considered the legal parent of any child she gives birth to.

Does this mean I do not have to adopt my partner or spouse’s child? – I do not believe that the court meant for this decision to be a substitute for second or step adoption.  Adoption is the one clear pathway to legal parentage and parentage includes much more that custody and visitation.  Adoption also ensures that a parent’s relationship to their child would be respected across the country and around the world.

For instance, if you are the non-biological, non-adoptive parent and you have a better health care plan at work, this decision would not mandate that an employer must put the child on your health insurance. Second or step parent adoption would, however, ensure that that the child would be protected in this situation.

Brooke S.B. was also silent on whether a legal relationship between a non-biological or non-adoptive mother would be recognized for the purposes of estate administration. This means if a legal parent dies without a Will, their children automatically share in that parent’s estate if they are married, or inherit the estate completely if the decedent spouse is not married.  Finally, the legal and emotional statement of securing your family through adoption resonates beyond just the family unit.  It establishes your family in the community, in your child’s educational institutions and, most importantly, in the eyes of the children with whom you are creating a legal family.

Brooke S.B. also fails to address how gay men can protect their families through surrogacy.  Adoption is still the best way in New York to create legal families established through surrogacy.

Brooke S.B. will undoubtedly protect many families from the horror of being torn apart because one parent was not recognized as a real parent. For that, New York family laws will be better and stronger for all families.  But this decision is not all-encompassing and when it comes to the protection of your family, the establishment of comprehensive legal parentage by a non-biological parent is the ultimate goal.  To accomplish that, a second or step-parent adoption is essential.

For more information about New York family law and the ramifications of the Brooke S.B. decision, contact Anthony Brown at Anthony@timeforfamilies.com or visit www.timeforfamilies.com today.