Custody Ruling By a Michigan Appellate Court Affirms Marital Equality

In the wake of the Obergefell decision by the Supreme Court of the United States in June of 2015 extending the right to marriage to same sex couples, Michigan appellate courts have issued some recent rulings in a case involving a custody battle between a same sex couple. The case, Stankevich v. Milliron, was originally filed in Dickenson County Family Court in the Upper Peninsula. Same sex parents face the same issues that heterosexual parents face, such as custody and child support issues.

The Marriage

In 2007, Jennifer Stankevich and Leanne Milliron were married in Canada, then moved to Michigan's Upper Peninsula to start their family. Leanne was artificially inseminated soon after the marriage and gave birth to the couple's only child. Jennifer, while not a biological parent, was very active in the child's life as a parent.

The Dissolution of the Marriage

The couple separated in early 2009 and at the time, had an agreed-to parenting schedule for their toddler. Their agreement broke down at some point and that is how custody issues came before the court. Jennifer, the non-biological parent, filed a lawsuit seeking to dissolve her marriage to Leanne and sought a custody order with a court-mandated parenting schedule. In the interim, Leanne cut Jennifer off from all parenting time.

Custody Travails in the Michigan Court System

The case between the two parents has been up and down through Michigan's appellate court system. When Leanne originally moved the family court for summary judgment, she argued that Jennifer had no standing to seek custody as a non-biological parent. The family court judge agreed and summary judgement was granted in early 2012. In October 2013, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court ruling, and Jennifer had no more involvement in the child's life. Once Obergefell was decided, the Michigan Supreme Court decided to review the case but hold it in abeyance until the Supreme Court decided its cases related to marriage equality.

Post-Obergefell Developments

In September of 2015, the Michigan Supreme Court vacated the 2013 ruling of the Court of Appeals in this case and directed the appeals court to reconsider the custody issue in light of the Supreme Court's decisions on marital equality. A significant ruling from Michigan's intermediate appellate court has now been issued, reversing their prior decision.

The Equitable Parent Doctrine

On November 19, 2015, the Court of Appeals, citing the "equitable parent doctrine," held that Jennifer now does have standing under the Child Custody Act to bring her suit. The equitable parent doctrine, before now solely applied to husbands and fathers, provides that when a husband and a child mutually acknowledge a parent/child relationship or the child's mother has cooperated in developing that relationship before filing for divorce and if the husband desires to have parental rights, the equitable parent doctrine allows this as long as the husband also takes on the child support obligation.

Need Help With a Custody Dispute? Work with an Attorney who has Experience With Same Sex Parenting Issues

If you have any questions or concerns regarding the complexities surrounding marriage equality and subsequent custody issues in Michigan, you should seek counsel from a family law attorney who is knowledgeable in the benefits of same sex marriage and the equitable parent doctrine. Please do not hesitate contact The Law Offices of Michael A. Robbins by calling 248-646-7980 or by completing the online intake form and let us help you figure out all of the options.