Who’s your mama? Seem like a stupid question, doesn’t it? Well, wait til you take family law with me! I’ll have your head spinning. Here’s the synopsis of a case we read this week. (True story!)
Dawn and Michael were married and lived out in Long Island. They tried to have kids, but had difficulty conceiving. A few years later, they became a throuple with Audria, who moved in with them. The 3 of them planned and to have and raise a baby together. They decided that Audria would carry the child who would be conceived the old-fashioned way. Dawn’s health insurance covered Audria’s pregnancy and they had a healthy baby boy in 2007. (Let’s call him Jamie.) Audria and Michael were named on the baby’s birth certificate so they were Jamie’s only 2 legal parents, but Dawn also did everything a mom would do. So in real life, Jamie had 3 parents.
Things went fine for a while, but then the arrangement started to erode. By the time Jamie was 18 months old, Audria and Dawn were a couple, and Michael moved out. He filed for custody (against Audria). Audria and Michael settled by agreeing to have joint decision making. Jamie lived mostly with Audria and Dawn and spent 3 weekends a month with his dad.
At some point later, Dawn and Michael got divorced – and Michael no longer recognized Dawn as Jamie’s mom. So, when Jamie was 10, Dawn filed for shared custody and visitation of Jamie – even though he was living with her. She wanted to protect relationship with Jamie, should Audria and Michael ever change their minds.
Should Dawn be recognized as Jamie’s mom? After all, she raised him since he was born, and he always lived with her. But can a child have more than 2 legal parents? There’s no law against it, but there was no precedent, either (that’s a big deal in the law). If Dawn was recognized as Jamie’s mom, then the Court would go on to the second question, which was whether it was in Jamie’s best interest for Dawn to share tri-custody and an order of visitation.
The judge found Michael’s testimony lacked credibility at trial. He also interviewed Jamie directly and it was clear that Jamie viewed both Audria and Dawn as his moms. (He distinguished them as “mommy with the orange truck” and “mommy with the grey truck.”)
While the judge commended the 3 parents for protecting Jamie from their differences, he had a few choice words for Michael. “No one told these 3 people to create this unique relationship. Nor did anyone tell defendant to conceive a child with his wife’s best friend or to raise that child knowing two women as his mother…. A person simply is responsible for the natural and foreseeable consequences of his or her actions.” He also called Michael’s assertion that Dawn should not have visitation is “unconscionable” when he shared in creating the expectation that Dawn would be Jamie’s parent, and that to remove her from Jamie’s life would have “a devastating consequence” to Jamie.
So here’s to tri-parenting. And here’s to Mommy with the grey truck! Let’s hope this works!