California court approves lesbian parental access

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The California Court of Appeal has ruled that Charisma R, a non-biological mother represented by the National Centre for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), may seek visitation with the child born to her former female partner through alternative insemination.

The case, Charisma R v Kristina S, is the first appellate decision to apply the California Supreme Court’s groundbreaking trio of 2005 decisions involving lesbian parents.

Deborah Wald, chairperson of Chair of the National Centre for Lesbian Rights’ National Family Law Advisory Committee, argued the case for Charisma on behalf of NCLR.

“I am delighted by the court’s decision,” said Ms Wald. “Since before the child was born, Charisma has done everything in her power to live up to her responsibilities as a parent. She deserves the opportunity to maintain a relationship with her daughter. As the Court of Appeal recognized, when two people use assisted reproduction to have a child together, the law should recognize both partners as legal parents.”

Charisma and Kristina were in a committed relationship for several years and had a child together using an anonymous sperm donor. Shortly after the child was born, Kristina abruptly left the couple’s home and took their daughter with her. Over the course of three years, Kristina allowed Charisma to see their daughter only twice. Charisma filed a petition asking the court to rule that she is a legal parent in May, 2004. The trial court dismissed her action, holding that only people who have a biological or marital connection to a child can be legal parents.

In its decision today, the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court, citing the California Supreme Court’s recent decision in Elisa B v Superior Court, which held that a non-biological lesbian mother was liable for child support for twins born to her female partner.

The National Centre for Lesbian Rights represented Charisma on appeal.

“Finally, the law is catching up with the reality of same-sex parent families,” said Shannon Minter, Legal Director for the National Centre for Lesbian Rights. “This decision is particularly important because it protects children whose parents separate shortly after a child is born. As the Court of Appeal recognised today, children benefit when the law protects their relationships with both parents from the outset, regardless of whether the parents stay together.”

In a trio of decisions last year, the California Supreme Court held that California’s parentage statutes must be applied equally to children born to lesbian couples through assisted reproduction. The cases were Elisa B v. Superior Court, Kristine H v. Lisa R, and K.M. v. E.G.. NCLR was counsel for the birth mother, Emily, in the Elisa B case, and successfully argued that her former partner should be responsible for the children that they had together through assisted reproduction.

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