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NY Court: definition of parent expanded

New York's Court of Appeals, the state's highest court has ruled that the definition of a parent can include a non-adoptive or non-biological individual. The case involved a same-sex couple where the relationship between the two women failed after the child was born and the former partner who helped raise the child sued for visitation rights after the birth mother attempted to prevent her contact with the child.

The judge in the lower court case noted in a "heartbreaking" decision that New York law made no provision for a person in her position to be considered as a parent. Case law had previously determined that a nonadoptive, nonbiological caretaker was not a parent under New York law.

The Court of Appeals reversed that decision, pointing out that given the more "varied familial relationships" present today, that older definition of a parent had become "unworkable."

The court stated, "where a partner shows by clear and convincing evidence that the parties agreed to conceive a child and to raise the child together, the nonbiological, nonadoptive partner has standing to seek visitation and custody."

This is significant because previously a nonbiological, nonadoptive partner would have lacked "standing,' or the right to appear in court to argue that they deserve visitation or custody rights. The Court is recognizing that the weight of evidence has found that children can be damaged when they are separated from "primary attachment figure."

This decision brings New York into agreement with most states where the issue has been raised and should allow the family courts of the state to more accurately and with greater sensitivity, determine custody in the best interests of the child and not be tied to static and outdated definitions of a parent.

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