TRENTON, NJ -- In a landmark decision, the New Jersey Supreme Court April 6 unanimously ruled that the former partner of a lesbian mother is entitled to visitation with the twins she helped raise since birth. In todays ruling, the state Supreme Court also outlined broad standards for non-biological parents establishing "psychological parenthood" that could entitle them to visitation or custody of children.
The historic decision legally recognizes the important child-parent relationships that gay men and lesbians form with the children they raise. The American Civil Liberties Union argued the case as a friend-of-the-court in October.
"Todays ruling is a watershed," said Leslie Cooper, an ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project attorney. "The states highest court has recognized that families take many formsand that lesbians and gay men are equal under the law in determining psychological parenthood of non-biological parents."
Lenora Lapidus, Legal Director of the ACLU of New Jersey, said todays ruling is a "victory for children" and a clear recognition of the relationships they have with adults in parental roles. "The New Jersey Supreme Court has further established itself as a leader on these issues. Childrens relationships with people who function as their parents have to be protected, and the court has provided a framework for how that can be accomplished," Lapidus said.
The New Jersey Supreme Court said that for psychological parenthood to be established, the legal parent must consent to and foster the relationship between the psychological parent and the child; the psychological parent must have lived with the child; the psychological parent must perform functions for the child to a significant degree; and a parent-child bond must be forged.
Todays ruling upheld an appellate court decision that granted a woman known as "V.C." visitation with her former partners five-year-old twins. V.C. and her partner, who began dating in 1993, purchased a home together and committed to each other in a religious ceremony. They raised the children together until their breakup in 1996.
Although V.C.s partner is the biological mother of the twins, the ACLU argued that when somebody fills the role of a parent, the childrens bond with her should be respected. The New Jersey Supreme Court agreed today, noting, "Once a third party has been determined to be the psychological parent to a child, under the previously described standards, he or she stands in parity with the legal parent."
Todays ruling comes as courts are increasingly examining the evolving nature of families. In January, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Troxel v. Granville, a case challenging a Washington state law that allows grandparents (and others) to petition courts to allow or deny visitation based on loose legal standards. The ACLU filed a friend-of-the-court brief in that case, which the U.S. Supreme Court will decide shortly.
Todays case in New Jersey is V.C. v. M.J.B. The ACLU of New Jersey, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and Lambda Families of New Jersey also filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case. David Wildstein of Wilentz, Goldman and Sptizer is a Cooperating Attorney in the case.