Pennsylvania Appeals Court Reunites Lesbian Mom with Daughter Lambda Legal Hails Heartwarming Victory for Client
(Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, March 29, 2005) — A Pennsylvania state appeals court issued a strong ruling that grants a lesbian mom visitation with her daughter that had been denied solely because her ex-partner (the child’s biological mother) worked to alienate the child from her, Lambda Legal said today.
“This is a heartwarming victory for our client that will also protect many other families, gay and straight,” said Alphonso David, Staff Attorney at Lambda Legal who argued the case at the appeals court earlier this year. “The court valued this parent-child relationship the same as any other, and acted to preserve it without regard to sexual orientation or the other parent’s bitterness.”
In a ruling issued late yesterday, a three-judge panel of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania unanimously ruled in favor of the mother, ordering immediate visitation and sending the case back to the trial court with instructions to carry out its ruling. In the court’s ruling, Judge Michael T. Joyce wrote, “Imagine a scenario where the same premise is applied to spouses. It is inconceivable that an embittered spouse who successfully estranges the children from the other spouse, to the point where the other spouse is unknown to the children, should be rewarded by a determination that it shall be in the best interest of the children not to have any relationship at all with the alienated spouse because of the custodial spouse’s feelings. The preposterousness of this scenario is equally applicable to the case at bar, despite Appellant’s non-traditional status.”
“The court is firmly siding with children, protecting them from losing one parent because of the other parent’s hostility. The court said the law against alienation should apply to all parents—without regard to sexual orientation or legal status,” said David.
The parents in this case, identified by their initials to protect the privacy of the child, were in a long-term relationship and raised the child together for three years. After their breakup in 1996, L.R.M., the biological mother, refused to allow T.B. visits with their daughter, despite T.B.’s daily parental role in the child’s life.
The decision reverses a disturbing lower court ruling that said that the biological mother was so successful at alienating the child that it was in the child’s best interest to remain forever separated from her other mother. In its ruling, the appeals court said the lower court “abused its discretion” in denying visitation to T.B. on this basis. The appeals court remanded the case to the lower court to evaluate the best interests of the child without regard to alienation. In a critical ruling for Lambda Legal’s client the court has also lifted a stay put in place in 1997 that prohibited T.B. from seeing her daughter until the matter was fully resolved. Visitation is to start immediately in a therapeutic setting.
Represented by Lambda Legal in the earlier stages of the case, T.B. was declared to be the child’s parent by both the Pennsylvania Superior Court in 2000 and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2001. In a 5-2 ruling, the Supreme Court recognized the lesbian mother’s legal standing as a parent under the in loco parentis doctrine, applying the same rules that the court has applied to other families. The court said a lesbian or gay parent may seek visitation or custody of a child, even if there is no biological or legal tie, if she or he assumed a parental status and performed parental duties over time with the consent of the legal parent.
Contact: Lisa Hardaway, 212-809-8585 ext.266
Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education, and public policy work.