Recently I wrote about a pending case in a blog post at this link: /blog/2016/09/family-law-matters-still-complex-for-lgbtq-community.shtml
Since that post was written, this case has gone to trial. I am posting this update.
My client, Chris, was seeking custody and/or visitation with a son born during her marriage to her wife. The child was conceived through in vitro fertilization, conceived and born during the marriage. Had the child been born to an opposite-sex couple, the husband would have been listed as the father at birth, and would have all of the legal rights that any natural father would have. But Chris is a woman. At the time the child was born (2011), Mississippi did not recognize the marriage of Chris and Kimberly Strickland.
On this theory, we asked the judge to add Chris' name to the birth certificate as we considered the minor child to be a child of the marriage. Our judge was very kind and very gracious. He found that Chris had acted in loco parentis (as a parent) to the child born during the marriage, as well as to an older child adopted by Chris' wife before the couple married, but while they were cohabitating as a family. Chris had not adopted this child with Kimberly as Mississippi did not allow that at the time of the adoption. Our judge in Rankin County, Mississippi awarded Chris visitation with both children. The teenage child may visit with her at his discretion due to his age and maturity. The younger child, the child born of the marriage, has specific visitation greater than standard visitation.
In spite of the fact that our judge was fair and kind, he did not feel as if he could legally add Chris to the birth certificate. In his opinion, this is an issue of first impression (has no legal precedent) and that the Mississippi Supreme Court must make that decision.
While I wish that Judge Grant had granted our request, I must admit that I do agree that this matter needs a Mississippi Supreme Court ruling. It will affect many other families. A definitive ruling and a legal standard must be established. So, we are off to the Mississippi Supreme Court on this issue. I am confident that we will be succesful there. To deny our request to place Chris' name on the birth certificate, the Supreme Court will either have to disenfranchise thousands of Mississippi fathers who have used assisted reproduction involving another man's DNA or else they will have to treat women differently than men. I do not think either is an acceptable, or constitutional, outcome.
Wish us luck! I am so proud of Chris that she is willing to be the face and voice for non-biological parents in Mississippi. What she is doing now will afect Mississippi families for years, even generations, to come.