The New Mexico Supreme Court [official website] on Friday ruled [opinion text, PDF] that the same-sex partner of a parent who has adopted a child has a right to seek custody of that child after the partnership has dissolved. The court granted standing to a woman seeking partial custody of a child she had supported for years while in a same-sex relationship with the child's biological mother. The court ruled that, if the facts alleged were true, the plaintiff could establish a natural parent and child relationship under the New Mexico Uniform Parentage Act (UPA) [text], even though she could not establish a biological link and had never sought to legally adopt the child.
The fact that Chatterjee did not adopt Child does not impact our decision. Section 40-11-5 of the New Mexico UPA delineates the ways in which parentage can be presumed. Thus, our Legislature has recognized that there will be many situations in which someone is caring for a child but has not taken any steps to legalize that relationship. While taking legal action is the best way to ensure that both the alleged parent and the child have rights arising from that relationship, both our Legislature and this Court have indicated a willingness to confer rights to relationships that have not been legally established. This is so because parental rights are not automatically conferred when there is a biological relationship, but rather when an alleged parent has taken the responsibility of caring for a child. Considering the specific facts of this case, we hold that Chatterjee has alleged sufficient facts to attempt to establish that she is an interested party, and therefore she has standing to establish parentage under Section 40-11-21 of the New Mexico UPA.New Mexico has no explicit prohibition [HRC backgrounder] on second-parent adoption. The case was reversed and remanded to the lower court to issue a decision based upon this newly formed precedent.
Child custody and support issues have been the subject of many state court decisions in recent years. In February, the Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled that same-sex couples who marry and have a child through artificial insemination [JURIST report] are subject to the same child custody laws as heterosexual couples. In May 2009, a New York state appeals court ruled that child support claims cannot be brought against same-sex partners [JURIST report] who have no biological or legal ties to a child. In 2005, the California Supreme Court ruled that estranged same-sex couples who created a child using reproductive science [JURIST report] were to be treated the same as heterosexual parents under child custody and support laws.