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N.H. Supreme Court sides with birth mother’s ex-partner in custody case

N.H. Supreme Court sides with birth mother’s ex-partner in custody case

CONCORD, N.H. — The New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the ex-partner of a 12-year-old’s girl’s birth mother has made her case to be considered a parent under the law.

The unanimous ruling makes New Hampshire the fourth state in the country to extend similar parental protections to same-sex parents, including a parent with no biological tie to the child.

New Hampshire Supreme  Court in Concord, N.H.
New Hampshire Supreme Court in Concord, N.H.

The court ruled that the Uniform Parentage Act “is based on a person’s conduct, not a biological connection.”

The case pitted Madelyn B.’s birth mother, Melissa, against her former partner, Susan. Because it’s a custody case, no last names were used.

The pair split up when Madelyn was 6 but continued to co-parent until 2013, when Melissa cut off the relationship and moved to terminate Susan’s guardianship. Melissa also began proceedings to have her new husband adopt Madelyn.

Madelyn was born in 2002, before the state adopted civil unions and later legalized same-sex marriage.

The court ordered the family court in Derry to schedule a “prompt” hearing to set up Susan’s re-acquaintance with the daughter she hasn’t seen since March of 2013.

“It’s a terrific opinion,” said Susan’s lawyer, Janson Wu, a senior staff attorney with Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD.) “It recognizes that a child has two parents regardless of their sexual orientation of the circumstance of the child’s birth.”

Wu said Susan did not want to comment.

Attorney Joshua Gordon, who represents Melissa, said his client has no avenue of appeal.

“The state Supreme Court is the end of the line for her,” Gordon said. He predicts the ruling will affect only a small number of couples, because gay marriage has been legal in New Hampshire since 2010.

“The genesis of this situation was two women who were trying to do in 2002 what we consider commonplace today,” Gordon said. “As a matter of precedent, it’s pretty narrow.”

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The court noted that Susan’s presence in Madelyn’s life had been constant before Melissa moved to end it.

The ruling notes the couple searched for a sperm donor that reflected Susan’s Irish heritage, sent out birth announcements naming them both as parents, obtained legal guardianship for Susan in 2002 and jointly made decisions about Madelyn’s health care, religion and education. Melissa is known to Madelyn as “Mommy” and Susan as “Momma.”

The family court in April 2013 suspended guardianship at Melissa’s request and barred Susan from intervening in the adoption proceedings. The Supreme Court vacated the family judge’s orders and sent the case back for a new hearing.

“For unwed, same-sex parents, it’s a whole new world where courts in New Hampshire finally allow both parents to be able to protect their relationship with their child,” Wu said.

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