Nassau County Family Law Blog

Monday, November 14, 2016

New York’s Newly Expanded Definition of Parenthood is Put to the Test

Who might be able to seek custody of a child in New York?

In August, the New York State Court of Appeals issued a monumental ruling expanding the definition of parenthood in the state. Under New York’s new law, caretakers with neither biological nor adoptive ties now have standing to seek custody and visitation rights.  While this law is celebrated as bringing New York into line with several other states and embracing modern families that may include unrelated parent-caretakers, it has presented some challenges for courts that must now determine who exactly is the parent.

One case currently before the State Supreme Court in Manhattan is proving especially complex.  The case involves two former partners, Circe Hamilton and Kelly Gunn, who are battling over whether Ms. Gunn should be recognized as the parent of the boy they raised together.  The child involved is six years old and was adopted by Ms. Hamilton from Ethiopia.  Adoption paperwork describes Ms. Hamilton has a single woman with a boyfriend and Ms. Gunn as her roommate.  However, as both women acknowledge, this was done due to Ethiopia’s refusal to adopt to same-sex couples.

Ms. Hamilton and Ms. Gunn planned to raise the boy together, but they broke up before the adoption was complete.  Ms. Hamilton proceeded with the adoption alone.  She continued to allow Ms. Gunn to play a significant role in the child’s life, though, having her watch him regularly and keep a crib in her house.  Now, Ms. Gunn is urging she should be considered a parent to the child because he is in their lives due to the couple's mutual agreement to adopt, while Ms. Hamilton argues that she continued with the adoption alone and only allowed Ms. Gunn to be involved later on as a friend.

Standing for Custody and Visitation

As the court grapples to determine whether Ms. Gunn is indeed a parent and thus has standing to seek custody or visitation, it will focus on some questions that can guide future custody cases under the new definition of parenthood.  Factors a court should consider in weighing whether a caregiver is a parent include:

  • How formal was the relationship between the caregiver and the child?
  • What did the child believe the caretaker’s role was?
  • Did the caretaker assume the duties of a parent?
  • What impact would it have on the child if the caregiver’s relationship ended?

For assistance with even the most complex child custody matter, contact the NYC child custody lawyers at Howard B. Leff, P.C.  

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