The Kansas Supreme Court ruled last week that nonbiological mothers may be recognized as parents simply by acknowledging maternity at the time a child is born and showing that the birth mother consented to shared parenting. The case also brings us what could be the best use of the word “notorious” since RBG.
The two cases, In re M.F. and In re W.L., involved nonbiological, nongestational mothers who were trying to establish parental rights after they had separated from their partners. The couples had never married and had not made any written co-parenting agreements. In one case, both of the mothers’ names were on the child’s birth certificate; in the other, they were not, although the twins’ last names were hyphenates of the mothers’ names. Neither nonbiological parent had done a second-parent (co-parent) adoption. Two lower courts said the nonbiological mothers were not legal parents, but the state Supreme Court has now overturned those rulings.
The Supreme Court had also decided in a nonbiological mother’s favor in a 2013 decision involving a separated same-sex couple—but in that case, the women had a written co-parenting agreement. The parents in the current cases did not. Nevertheless, the court ruled last week, just because the earlier couple had a written agreement didn’t mean that subsequent couples were required to show written agreements or their oral equivalents.
They concluded in the current two cases that based on current state parenting statutes, “A woman seeking to establish parenthood who relies on the presumption of maternity under [state law] need not show the existence of a written or oral coparenting agreement between her and the birth mother. She need only show she has notoriously recognized maternity and the rights and duties attendant to it at the time of the child’s birth” and that “the birth mother has consented to shared parenting at the time of the child’s birth.”
“Notorious” in its legal sense means something “generally known and talked of.” I now sort of want a t-shirt that says “Notorious Parent.” (Maybe this can be the next fundraiser from one of our LGBTQ legal organizations….)
The court made a further important point, stressing that in one of the cases, it was the nonbiological parent K.L.’s “notorious recognition” of her parentage, not (as the lower courts had said) any “open and notorious demonstrations of parenting” or “open and notorious assumption of parenting responsibilities” that mattered. They explain the distinction:
It simply was not necessary that she demonstrate she was an attentive, hands-on, involved mother. Rather, she had to show that she notoriously recognized her maternity, including the rights it would give her and the duties it would impose upon her. The two [lower] courts’ focus … needed to be on whether K.L. had qualified as one of M.F.’s [the child’s] two parents, not on whether she had later turned out to be a model of parenting success.
In other words, nonbiological parents needn’t feel the pressure to prove they are model parents in order to be recognized as parents, something many earlier LGBTQ parents have had to struggle with as they fought for legal rights to their children.
Furthermore, the court said, it is important that the nonbiological mother’s acknowledgment of maternity and the biological mother’s consent happen at the child’s birth, in order to establish stability for the child:
Allowing unilateral action by either party to thwart the maternity of the other after a child has arrived and vital bonds with both have begun to form is unacceptable…. [A] demand that each individual have made up her mind as of the time of the baby’s arrival incentivizes stability for that child over surmountable relationship disappointments that are bound to occur…. In the case of the birth of a child, the crystallization of the parties’ individual intents at the time the child enters the world configures the family.
This is great news, showing that even in Kansas, a very red state, we can make progress for queer families.