There’s been lots of talk lately over what defines a “parent” and an adopted child’s right, for example, to know his biological mother. Or a child’s right to know her sperm-donor father. But the case of two Florida women, ex-partners in a messy custody battle over their 8-year-old daughter, covers whole new ground. And, frankly, it makes state laws seem antiquated!
The women are in a unique situation: One woman, Tina, donated the egg. Her lesbian partner, whose name has not been revealed, had it implanted into her womb (along with donor sperm). The couple raised their daughter together and all was good in their world – until they split up in 2006 after an 11-year partnership.
Their little girl was just 2 years old at the time and, at first, Tina – who is technically the girl’s biological mother – paid child support to her ex-partner. The child and her birth mother moved to North Carolina to be with family, but the couple worked out a time-share arrangement and both were still very much involved in their daughter’s life. That is, until the birth mother headed to Australia and took the child with her without telling Tina.
That’s when things got messy, and Florida courts were forced to decide: Who is the legal parent? Is it Tina, the biological mother, or her ex-partner, who carried the child for nine months in her womb and gave birth to her? A trial court in Brevard County sided with Tina’s ex-partner, citing Florida statute. “It breaks my heart, but this is the law,” the judge said at the time.
Tina has not seen her daughter since December 2008 and, understandably, she’s devoted years of her life pushing for change (though the girl has a hyphenated version of her parents’ names, her birth certificate bears only the name of her birth mother).
On December 23, a state appeals court in Daytona Beach finally rejected the law as antiquated and recognized both women as legal parents. The appeals court ordered the case back to the trial judge and instructed him to iron out custody, visitation and child-support issues – with a focus on the child’s well-being.
Although this case is unique, the court’s precedent-setting ruling will no doubt have wider implications on families in similar situations. And that’s a good thing. The appeals court said that state law has not kept up with the times, and I couldn’t agree more. Tina no doubt suffered, but what’s just as disheartening is the fact that a child was forced to give up a loving parent.