A lesbian who helped raise a child with her former partner following artificial insemination can seek custody or visitation with the child even though the couple were never married and she was not the one who gave birth, Missouri appellate judges ruled.
The Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District's ruling cited the woman's "dedicated, nurturing, and loving parent-child relationship." Court records identify her only as Kathleen.
"This was a family under every reasonable definition aside from legal," judges wrote in the Tuesday ruling.
The case hits on uncertainties facing some unmarried same-sex couples who raise children together, although an attorney for Kathleen said it also could apply to some unmarried heterosexual couples raising kids.
In the St. Louis-area couple's case, Kathleen and her former partner, identified as Kate, signed paperwork for artificial insemination in 2011. Kate gave birth in 2012, and the couple lived together until January 2015.
Their relationship ended months before the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that allowed gay couples to marry nationwide.
A lower court later denied Kathleen custody or visitation.
But appeals court judges said Kathleen had a "significant bonded familial custody relationship," making her eligible for third-party parental rights under Missouri law. Judges sent the case back to the trial court to re-evaluate whether she should get to see the child.
The ruling doesn't guarantee Kathleen custody or visitation; that will depend on whether the trial court determines she's a fit parent and it is in the best interests of the child.
An attorney for Kate declined to comment.
The director of family law at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Cathy Sakimura, who represented Kathleen, said the case shows that a significant parental relationship "is enough to give the person a right to seek visitation or custody."
"Same-sex parents and their kids are families, just like any other family, and often they may not be biologically related to each other," Sakimura said. "But they share the same parental bond and love that any other family does, and they are just as worthy of being recognized by the law."