In the past several years, the definition of “family” has been enhanced to accommodate a wide variety of lifestyles, including same-sex couples using surrogate mothers and DNA donors to have children of their own. The term “parent” is no longer exclusive simply to the people who contributed DNA to a particular child and courts in New Jersey and across the country have struggled to keep up with changing definitions and relationship options for today’s modern family.
In one recent case, a New Jersey family court judge ruled in favor of a tri-parenting model, in which three adults — the biological father, his same-sex spouse and the biological mother — share custody of one child. The decision made in D.G. and S.H. v. K.S. has opened the door to new interpretations of parenthood and custody and may have a great impact on how we view custodial arrangements in the future as families continue to change and childbearing options advance.
Three Parents, Two Houses
According to an article published in Marie Claire in July of 2010, when the story first gained national attention, the married men, D.G. and S.H., approached their mutual friend, the woman referred to in court as K.S. and asked her to help them conceive a child. Through artificial insemination, D.G. and K.S. conceived a child and a baby girl was born in 2009.
Before the baby’s birth, the three parents took classes together and registered for baby items to accommodate both houses, planning for their daughter to split time between D.G. and S.H.’s home and K.S.’s. D.G. and S.H. lived in Manhattan, while K.S. lived in Point Pleasant Beach at the time. After the child was born, K.S. met a man from California and planned to move across country to live with him. She wanted to bring the child with her, against objections from D.G. and S.H.
When the case went to family court, it took 19 days to determine who should have custody and how the custodial arrangements should be handled. Ocean County Superior Court Judge Stephanie Wauters determined that joint residential custody between the three parents was in the baby girl’s best interest, and ruled that the child should split time between K.S.’s house in Point Pleasant Beach and D.G. and S.H.’s new home in Princeton. Wauters found that the “frequent travel time” was “outweighed by the loving bond and relationship the child will be able to maintain and experience in both households in New Jersey.”
Although Wauters granted joint custody between D.G. and S.H. and K.S., she ruled that S.H. was a psychological parent only (not a legal parent) because he was not biologically connected to the child and had not sought adoption. She noted that the best-interest standard for determining custody does not work in determining legal parentage, and accordingly, that decision was left to the state and federal legislature to debate.
Today’s children will have a wide variety of options when it comes to determining who is family and the current laws may not be enough to accommodate every scenario. For parents and families who need legal clarification or consultation regarding custody, parental rights and other family issues, contact the New Jersey family lawyers at Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, today.