By: Shannon Ralph
On Friday, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that a woman involved in a twenty-year same-sex relationship has the right to seek custody and visitation rights for a child born to her now estranged partner. The case marks the first time the state court has weighed in on the issue of custody and visitation rights for same-sex couples with children.
Under state law, Teri Latham of Omaha could not adopt the boy born to her partner or claim legal standing as a parent because the state does not recognize same-sex unions. But the Supreme Court ruled Friday that she had the right to argue she had, in essence, become a parent through her parenting of a boy born to her partner, Susan Schwerdtfeger, in 2001.
Latham helped plan and finance the birth, helped choose a sperm donor, and helped raise the child until the couple separated in 2006. She was provided visits with the child for a year and half, when the boy’s biological mother cut off all ties.
The Surpreme Court ruling in Latham’s favor took into account the common law legal principle of in loco parentis in which a nonbiological or nonadoptive person —typically a stepparent or grandparent— can become a legal parent by assuming the obligations of a parent and through a relationship with a child. The court, in its ruling, noted that “a biological parent’s rights do not extend to erasing a relationship between her partner and her child which she voluntarily created and actively fostered simply because after the parties’ separation, she regretted having done so.”
Latham’s attorney, Tyler Block of Omaha, said, “They’ve applied age-old law to this particular situation. I think they’ve gotten it exactly right.”
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