Recognizing Lesbian and Gay Family Relationships, NJ Appeals Court Grants Visitation Rights to Woman's Former Partner

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
March 8, 1999 12:00 am

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TRENTON, N.J.– In the first appeals court decision addressing the issue of visitation rights of a lesbian or gay non-biological co-parent, a New Jersey court said that the former partner of a lesbian mother was entitled to visitation with the twins she helped raise since birth.

The ACLU of New Jersey and the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, said the decision was a victory for lesbian and gay parents who struggle for recognition of their family relationships.

In a 2-1 decision, the court found that the woman seeking visitation had a “parent-type relationship” with the twins and, given the bond that had developed between her and the children, it was in the children’s best interest to maintain their relationship with her through visitation.

“The court properly applied a long-standing doctrine in New Jersey which recognizes that adults who function as parents to children are important to those children, and should not be treated as legal strangers to them,” said Lenora Lapidus, Legal Director of the ACLU of New Jersey.

The court had no trouble concluding that the woman had a “parent-type relationship” with the twins whom she raised together with her former partner from their birth until the couple’s separation when the children were 2 * years old.

In arriving at its decision, the court focused on the fact that the biological mother treated the woman as a co-parent by registering her as “the other mother” in the children’s day care center and sending her cards referring to her as a mother to the children. The court also considered that the couple and the twins lived together as a family, that the woman acted as a parent to the children and that the children bonded to her as their “psychological parent.”

“A child doesn’t know that the person who took care of her, provided for her and loved her is not her legally recognized parent, and she doesn’t suffer any less from the loss of that person from her life,” said Leslie Cooper, a staff attorney at the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project.

Cooper added that “decisions like this one serve to protect the many children who are being raised by adults who are not their biological or adoptive parents by ensuring that the parent-like relationships that develop cannot be summarily severed.”

The friend-of-the-court brief was filed by David Wildstein of Wilentz, Goldman and Spitzer of Woodbridge,and was also filed on behalf of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Lambda Families of New Jersey.

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