The facts of the case are pretty straightforward. Two women in a long-term relationship decided to adopt a child together. Because of limitations on adoption by same-sex couples, only one woman was able to legally adopt the child. After the adoption was complete, but before the second woman could legally adopt the child, the couple broke up. Needless to say, after the breakup, the non-adoptive woman wanted to visit and maintain her relationship with the child.
What makes this case interesting is how the court reached its decision. Generally speaking, to have the right to visit a child you must be either a natural parent, meaning you gave birth to the child, or you must be the legal / adoptive parent, which means that you have legally established yourself as the parent. If you cannot show either form of relationship, then you must establish visitation as a third party, such as a grandparent, which is much more difficult to do.
Historically, men and women have been treated differently when dealing with child custody and support for obvious reasons. For a woman, it is much easier to prove that she is the natural or biological parent: she was there when it happened. But, for men, there is much more grey area as to proving who the father is. As a result, under the New Mexico Uniform Parentage Act (UPA), a father can establish a presumption that he is a natural parent by showing four things:
- Personal relationship with the child;
- Financial relationship with the child;
- Custodial relationship with the child; and
- Holding out the child as their own to others.
Therefore, because this alternate test to prove a parental relationship exists for a man, the court held that it should also be available for a woman.
This will clearly impact people who have acted as parents to children, but who have never formally established a legal relationship through adoption, as well as same-sex couples who were previously prevented from creating such rights.