The non-biological spouse in a same-sex marriage is a parent of the child under New York law as much as the birth-mother. So held Monroe County Supreme Court Acting Justice Richard A. Dollinger, in his May 7, 2014 opinion in Wendy G-M v. Erin G-M.

The birth mother and her spouse were married in a civil ceremony in Connecticut, before New York enacted its Marriage Equality Act (“MEA”). The couple decided to have a child and in October 2011, they both signed a consent form agreeing to artificial insemination procedures. In the consent form, the birth-mother authorized the physician to perform artificial insemination on her, and the spouse requested the doctor to perform the procedure, declaring “any child or children born as a result of “ pregnancy following artificial insemination shall be accepted as the legal issue of our marriage.”

The document was signed by the birth-mother, the spouse, and the physician, but there was no acknowledgment to the signatures before a notary (as required by D.R.L. §73). Both parties underwent artificial insemination for almost two years, until the procedure succeeded on the birth-mother; the spouse then discontinued her treatments. Both the birth-mother and the spouse were both involved in appointments. The spouse attended the pre-birth classes, including breast feeding, baby care, and CPR classes. The spouse participated in the baby showers. The birth-mother celebrated the impending birth of “our” daughter through a Facebook posting.

The spouse was present at the birth of the child and the couple jointly decided the name of the child. When the hospital officials asked for information on the parents, both participated in the discussions and the birth mother acknowledged that the spouse was the parent of the child. The child was given a hyphenated surname of the two women, with the spouse’s name listed first. The birth certificate for the child lists both as the parents of the child.

After the birth of the child, citing marital trouble, the spouse left the household, in her words, to “not cause undue stress or potential other problems.” The child only lived in the same household with the two women for one week before they established separate households.

The action for divorce was commenced by the birth-mother in December 2013, less than then three months after the birth of the child. Before and after commencement, the birth-mother would not permit her spouse to visit with the child. The spouse then filed the instant request for a variety of relief, including access to the child, maintenance, and attorney fees.

Justice Dollinger was called upon to determine whether the spouse who did not give birth to the child (the non-biological spouse), is a parent of the child under New York’s longstanding presumption that a married couple are both parents of a child born during their marriage.


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Church and State.jpgIn the United States, there is perhaps no greater blending of Church and State than with marriage and divorce. New York’s recognition of same-sex marriage shines a light on a debate as old as the country.

It took the 16th century Protestant Reformation to reject marriage as a religious sacrament.  For  Martin Luther, marriage was “a worldly thing.”  In the 17th century, the English Parliament declared “marriage to be no sacrament.” It was to be performed by a justice of the peace, not by a minister. The Puritans brought secular marriage to America. Back in England the pendulum swung back to the religious right in 1753, when the Church of England was put in charge of all marriages (including those of Catholics, but not of Quakers and Jews).

In New York, marriage is a hybrid. Domestic Relations Law §10 declares:

Marriage, so far as its validity in law is concerned, continues to be a civil contract, to which the consent of parties capable in law of making a contract is essential.


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Gay marriage rings.jpgLast week, the Appellate Division, Third Department, exercised its equitable muscle to filling in the gaps while the marriage and divorce laws of the different states catch up with each other.  On July 21, 2011, in Dickerson v. Thompson, the court granted a dissolution of a Vermont civil union.

Under Vermont law, the civil union entered by the gay couple was not a marriage. As a result, a New York divorce, “no-fault” or otherwise, was not the appropriate remedy. The appellate court noted that as “the plaintiff would be entitled to a dissolution of a civil union in Vermont,” but for her failure to be a current resident of that state. Giving the plaintiff her need relief, the court declared the broad equity powers of the New York Supreme Court were sufficient to declare the Vermont civil union dissolved. Thus, the plaintiff would now be free to marry, domestically partner, or re-unite with another.

While New York tore asunder one gay couple, more than 800 gay couples were able to marry on July 24, 2011, the first day of such unions under New York’s same-sex marriage legislation.  New York is still coming to grips with joining the rest of the country by making the dissolution of a marriage a matter of one spouse’s choice: a simple declaration that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. That law is just under 10 months old.


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