NASW: Lesbian Should Be Able to Seek Custody of Adopted Child

A lesbian who was denied the right to seek custody of her ex-partner’s adopted daughter should be allowed to do so, NASW said in a May 3 brief to the New Mexico Supreme Court.

Research shows that nonbiological parents can forge strong relationships with children and such relationships are valuable for children’s development, regardless of the parent’s sexual orientation, NASW said.

“Decades of social science research have shown that children experience psychological harm and trauma when attachment bonds they have formed with their functional parents are severed,” NASW said in an amicus brief filed in the case of Chatterjee vs. King.

The two women had a 15-year relationship that ended in 2008. They traveled to Russia together when Taya King adopted a 13-month-old child whom Bani Chatterjee actively coparented during the next nine years. The child was given Chatterjee’s name and Chatterjee was listed on school documents as a parent.

However, after the couple broke up, King denied Chatterjee the right to visit the child. Chatterjee went to court to seek custody but the New Mexico Court of Appeals ruled she had no right because she is not a legal parent.

NASW, the NASW New Mexico Chapter, and the Southwest Women’s Law Center filed an amicus brief with the New Mexico Supreme Court to support Chatterjee’s custody petition. They asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to consider decades of research on parent-child attachment when making its decision.

That research indicates nonbiological parents can form attachments to children that are just as deep as those biological parents. And gay men and lesbians can parent as effectively as heterosexuals, research shows.

In a related case, NASW got a favorable decision in Catherine D.W. vs. Deanna C.S. (also captioned as In the Interest of T.P.S.) in the Illinois Appellate Court for the Fifth District. That case was a legal challenge to the termination of guardianship for children parented by a lesbian couple in Illinois.

NASW filed an amicus brief supporting the non-biological mother. The court reversed the termination of guardianship and sent the case back to a lower court for a decision based on the best interests of the children.

Oregon Child Abuse Case

The Supreme Court in May struck down an Oregon ruling about whether a girl’s constitutional rights were violated when caseworkers interviewed her at school about abuse allegations without parental consent or a warrant. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that caseworkers had violated the girl’s freedom from unfair search and seizure. The court vacated the circuit court’s ruling, thus permitting child protection workers to interview children without parental consent in appropriate cases.

Sherri Morgan, NASW associate counsel, told the Bureau of National Affairs’ Law Week NASW is pleased that the Supreme Court struck down the warrant requirement, but would have liked the court to have given more guidance on when caseworkers need warrants to investigate child abuse cases.

The case dated back to 2003, when a social worker and deputy sheriff interviewed a girl in elementary school, without first getting a warrant or parental permission, about whether her father was sexually abusing her.