Beginning in 2012, Showtime aired two seasons of a controversial, yet undeniably fascinating reality show titled “Polyamory: Married & Dating.” The show followed the lives of several polyamorous families of various arrangements as they navigated the challenges of living a lifestyle that many consider taboo. Some people object to multi-partner relationships based on moral grounds, but for others, it's purely an issue of long-term practicality. Certainly, there are many issues that polyamorous couples have to deal with, ranging from heightened emotions to complex legal actions. An example of the legal dilemmas facing polyamory households was brought up recently in the case of Dawn M. v. Michael M.
Decided by the New York Supreme Court in March of this year, Dawn M. involved a tri-parenting situation between Dawn and Michael, a married couple, and their friend Audria. The three parties entered into a polyamorous relationship, and eventually decided to have a child together. Audria had the child, J.M., since Dawn was unable to conceive, but soon after, the relationship between the women and Michael fell apart. Dawn and Audria moved out with J.M., and Michael filed for divorce against Dawn, along with the assertion that he did not consider Dawn to be J.M.'s parent.
While it's true that Dawn was not J.M.'s biological parent, the three parties had agreed to raise the child in a tri-pareting situation at the time of the pregnancy. Dawn and Audria also presented credible evidence to show that J.M. considered both women to be his “mommies”, and then Dawn had acted as a mother to the child during his entire life. This was substantiated by the fact that Dawn, Audria and Michael had all lived together during the pregnancy, and up until the two women moved out on their own.
Because Dawn was not J.M.'s biological mother, the court's ruling was primarily based on the best interest standard, which means deciding in favor of what was best for the child's well-being. The court ruled that based on the evidence, which included an interview with J.M., it would be in the child's best interest to have a continuing relationship with Dawn. Thus, the court awarded her shared legal custody and visitation, since anything less would leave Dawn's involvement in the child's life “dependent on the consent or whim of either his biological mother or father.”
This is an extremely significant statement, since it acknowledges the parental rights of a psychological parent, even for households with unconventional family dynamics. Furthermore, it reaffirms that the child's best interest is the ultimate goal in any family court judgment involving a minor. It is, however, critical for litigants in unconventional families to retain competent legal representation. An experienced attorney can help you put together a compelling case that focuses on evidence, legal statutes and case precedents, regardless of your lifestyle choices. For more information on your custody rights and legal options, please speak with the family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.