Colorado custody case could set precedent

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com September 18 2002 11:00 PM ET

Two women who once raised a now-7-year-old child together as a lesbian couple are fighting for custody in the Colorado court of appeals. Observers say the case could set a precedent for how the rights of "psychological parents" and legal parents are determined. Psychological parents are defined as having a significant emotional role in a child's life even though they have no legal standing. The names of the women have been blocked out in court papers and the case sealed because a child is involved, the Denver Rocky Mountain News reported Wednesday.

The Denver women, who were in a relationship for 11 years, wanted to jointly adopt a baby from China. Only one of the women could legally adopt the girl under Colorado law, but a Denver district court judge granted their request to share rights and responsibilities for their daughter. Both women took several months off from their jobs after the adoption and reduced their workloads so they could spend more time with the girl. The child called her adoptive mother "Momma" and her other caregiver "Mommy," according to court documents.

However, in February 2001 the women broke up and were back in court fighting over custody of the girl. Magistrate Diane Dupree ruled that both are mothers to the child and gave each woman equal parenting time and joint decision-making responsibilities. "The evidence is overwhelming that before their breakup, the parties considered themselves equal parents of [the child]," Dupree wrote in her ruling.

The adoptive mother appealed the decision. It was affirmed by district court judge Michael Mullins, so she took her case to the court of appeals. The adoptive mother wants sole decision-making powers and the majority of the girl's time, said attorney Jim Rouse.

The two women currently share parenting time equally, and the psychological mother wants to maintain that. The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Center for Lesbian Rights have filed motions in support of the psychological mother.