A custody battle that reached the highest court in our country has come to an end, and the parental rights of an adoptive parent have been restored after the Supreme Court of Alabama held that a Judgment of adoption from Georgia was not valid in their state. Why did this case garner national attention and a unanimous decision of the Supreme Court of the United States?
What makes this case groundbreaking and what gave this case national attention is that it was a custody battle between two former same-sex partners where the children were biologically related to only one partner (E.L.) and legally adopted by the other (V.L.).
V.L. and E.L had been in a relationship for seven years at the time that E.L. gave birth to their first child; two years later, E.L. gave birth to twins. The parties later formalized V.L.’s relationship to the children by obtaining a Judgment in Georgia allowing V.L. to adopt all three children. By 2011, the parties were residing in Alabama and that year decided to separate. V.L. eventually filed a petition in Alabama to 1) register the adoption Judgment from Georgia and 2) address custody and parenting time issues. The trial court granted V.L.’s request, but E.L. appealed, claiming that Georgia did not have subject matter jurisdiction at the time it entered the Judgment and thus Alabama did not have to honor the Judgment. This argument was rejected, and the matter was brought to the Supreme Court of Alabama, which agreed with E.L.’s jurisdictional argument.
Despite having legally been a parent to the parties’ children for several years, the Order of the Supreme Court of Alabama took away V.L.’s legal rights to the children, including any right she would have to parenting time with them. As a result, in addition to petitioning the Supreme Court of the United States to review this decision, V.L. – represented by, amongst others, the National Center for Lesbian Rights – filed an emergent request for parenting time with the children while the case worked its way through the Supreme Court. This request was granted in December 2015.
In its unanimous decision, the Supreme Court held that the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution required that Alabama give credence to the Judgment of another state that had been entered by a Court with the subject matter jurisdiction to enter such in the first place. The Supreme Court specifically disavowed the practice of refusing to honor another state’s judgment simply because the receiving state disagreed with the reasoning used to enter the judgment or believed it to be “wrong on the merits.” The Supreme Court found that nothing in Georgia’s statutes precluded the trial court in Georgia from entering the original Judgment granting V.L.’s request to be an adoptive parent to the three children, and as such, Alabama had no reason not to accept the Judgment in their state.
While this is certainly a victory for V.L. and her children, and while the battle to secure same-sex marriage rights has come to an end, there are still many murky areas of our nation’s family laws that requires careful consideration for parents to navigate, as V.L. experienced when her family left the confines of one state for another and lost the rights she had just across the state line.
One such murky area that was recently cleared up in New Jersey – after a successful effort by our very own Sarah Jacobs, Esq. – is what custodial rights, if any, exist for a non-biological parent in a complex parenting arrangement, such as a tri-parenting arrangement. In D.G. & S.H. v. K.S., Jacobs Berger, LLC, represented the Plaintiffs, a same-sex couple seeking custody and to block the relocation of their minor child with K.S. In a published (and thus precedential) trial court decision, the Court deemed S.H. (the non-biological father and same-sex spouse of D.G.) a psychological parent and granted all three parties equal legal and custodial rights, an unheard of position in New Jersey family law and a step towards recognizing the unique family structures that arise out of the many different types of relationships that residents of this state have.
For more information on how any of these recent decisions may impact you and your family, contact Jacobs Berger, LLC, for a consultation today.