When a couple with one or more minor children splits up, they need to agree on who will have physical and legal custody of the children – or obtain a court order addressing custody. Unfortunately, when a same-sex couple was not legally married when their children were born and when only one parent is biologically-related to their children, custody determinations can be even more of a struggle than they otherwise might be.
For one non-biological mother in Michigan, a recent Michigan Court of Appeals ruling means that she will be recognized as her children’s parent.
Lanesha Matthews and her former partner, Kyresha LeFever had twins conceived through IVF using LeFever’s eggs which were fertilized by a sperm donor. Matthews carried and delivered the twins, and her name was listed on the children’s birth certificates. When the couple split up in 2014, same-sex marriage was still not legal in Michigan. When LeFever sought custody of the children in 2018, a Wayne County judge ordered that LeFever’s name should be added to the birth certificate and that Matthews’ name should be removed, treating her as an unrelated third party rather than a parent. The judge gave custody to LeFever, awarding Matthews parenting time.
Fortunately for Matthews, the appellate court judge disagreed with the lower court’s finding, holding that Matthews was a legal parent to the twins because she gave birth to them – regardless of the fact that she and the children do not share genes. In her opinion, appeals Judge Elizabeth Gleicher stated “A woman who gives birth to a child is that child’s natural mother under the common law, and there is no reason to look elsewhere for meaning.”
As more couples turn to IVF and sperm/egg donors, this type of custody issue may become more prevalent. The Michigan appellate court’s ruling in this case may help other parents avoid being treated as non-parents under the law.
To learn more about how The Surrogacy Law Center helps protect clients’ rights, contact us today!