In our last post we discussed the challenges that same-sex couples have when it comes to establishing their rights as non-biological parents. These challenges may also apply to heterosexual couples in which one parent isn't biologically related to their child. Putting legal protections in place is especially important in Texas, where marriage between two men or two women isn't recognized.
Earlier we discussed the case of a Dallas woman who hasn't been able to see the boy that she and her former partner had while they were a couple. Her partner is the biological mother, but for reasons that aren't clear, she wasn't willing to participate in a second-parent adoption after the baby was born. Left with little legal standing, the woman fighting to see the boy has already spent $50,000 in legal fees and hasn't seen the child since last summer.
For couples having a child that won't be related to both parents, it's important to take some proactive steps long before the child is born. A good first step is to write up a "family plan" that outlines the expectations and responsibilities of the two parents. This might be done through a premarital or childrearing counseling session with a psychologist or other therapist. The resulting document can be formalized by a family law attorney.
The couple may also want to establish their parental roles by creating wills, establishing power of attorney and joint managing conservatorship. All of these documents will make it more clear to a court that both parents are invested in the child. They also establish a directive in case one parent dies or becomes incapacitated and can't care for the child.
Other documents such as joint mortgages, leases and bank accounts can demonstrate a couple's commitment to each other, which strengthens the intent of co-parenting a child. Getting married in a state where same-sex marriage is legal will also help, even if the marriage isn't recognized in Texas. All of these will improve a non-biological parent's standing if the relationship ends.
Of course, most judges in Texas would prefer that couples work our custody and visitation agreements on their own. But because there's no telling how bitter former partners will be toward each other, establishing your standing and intentions as a parent beforehand is absolutely crucial if you wish to have visitation and custody of a child who isn't biologically yours.
Source: Dallas Voice, "Unplanned parenthood," David Taffet, Feb. 1, 2013
- Our firm handles child custody, visitation and other family law matters for residents of Dallas and surrounding areas of Texas. To learn more about our practice, visit our Dallas child custody page.