Same Sex Marriage & Equitable Parent Doctrine

The original concept of equitable parent doctrine was defined in the holding of a case titled, Atkinson v. Atkinson, 160 Mich App 601; 408 NW2d 516 (1987).  The Court of Appeals held that, “[W]e adopt the do[c]trine of equitable parent and find that a husband who is not the biological father of a child born or conceived during the marriage may be considered the natural father of that child where (1) the husband and the child mutually acknowledge a relationship as father and child, or the mother of the child has cooperated in the development of such a relationship over a period of time prior to the filing of the complaint for divorce, (2) the husband desires to have the rights afforded to a parent, and (3) the husband is willing to take on responsibility of paying child support.

Back in 2013, in the case of Stankevich v. Milliron, Plaintiff Mother of a same-sex marriage attempted to assert this doctrine against Defendant Biological Mother.  However, Defendant Biological Mother was successful in her request to dismiss the case due to Plaintiff’s lack of standing since the equitable parent doctrine did not extend to same sex marriages at that time.   The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal in October 2013.  Thereafter, Plaintiff Mother filed an application for leave to appeal with the Michigan Supreme Court due to the pending appeals in DeBoer v. Snyder and Obergefell v. Hodges regarding the constitutionality of bans against same sex marriages.  Since the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges that same sex marriage bans are unconstitutional, the Michigan Supreme Court remanded the Stankevich v. Milliron case back to the Court of Appeals for reconsideration.

On remand, the Court of Appeals held that Plaintiff Mother does have standing to assert the equitable parent doctrine, which now applies to same sex marriages.  The case will be remanded back to the trial court for an evidentiary hearing and Plaintiff Mother will have the opportunity to prove that she meets the criteria of the equitable parent doctrine.  The child was born during the parties’ marriage (married in Canada in 2007); the parties entered into an agreement to raise the child; Plaintiff Mother claims she assisted with the artificial insemination process, was present at the child’s birth, and fully anticipated in caring for the child until Defendant Biological Mother prevented her from doing so.  Plaintiff Mother will have the opportunity to prove that during the parties’ relationship she shared in parental responsibilities and maintained a strong bond with the child, and that she has provided financially for the child.  If her parental status is confirmed,  then the Court can establish an Order regarding custody, parenting time, and child support.

See Court of Appeals Opinion here: http://publicdocs.courts.mi.gov:81/OPINIONS/FINAL/COA/20151119_C310710_42_310710O.OPN.PDF

This is one of many changes that we are starting to see in Michigan since the ban on same sex marriages was held unconstitutional.  It’s important to find attorneys who are dedicated to keeping current with prevalent family law changes and updates.

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