Professors Urge New York’s High Court to Protect Functional Parent-Child Relationships

Professors Urge New York?s High Court to Protect Functional Parent-Child Relationships


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New York, November 16, 2009 -- Professors from every one of New York’s 15 law schools are urging the state’s highest court to stop treating functional parents – those who raised children with a former partner – as “legal strangers” to their children.
The Columbia Law School Sexuality & Gender Law Clinic filed the brief on behalf of 45 law professors in the case of Debra H. v. Janice R. At issue is whether a woman who was raising a child with her former partner can be denied the right to seek custody and visitation because she is not the child’s biological or adoptive parent.
“The statewide – and national – condemnation of the New York high court’s earlier decision to treat functional parents as ‘legal strangers’ is striking,” said Suzanne Goldberg, Director of the Sexuality & Gender Law Clinic. “Scholars and courts around the country widely agree that a functional approach to defining parent-child relationships is the best way to protect children’s interests.”
The brief asks the Court to revisit its much-criticized 1991 opinion in Alison D. v. Virginia M. In that case, the Court held that a woman had no legally cognizable relationship with her son, despite having planned the child’s conception and having raised the child since birth with her former partner. 
“Without a functional approach to parent-child relationships, courts cause tremendous damage by separating children and their functional parents under the law,” said Professor Ariela Dubler, a family law expert at Columbia Law School.
“We look forward to the Court taking this opportunity to bring New York into line with the clear trend in family law,” said Harriet Antczak, a Clinic student who worked on the brief. “Aligning the law with the reality of parent-child relationships is such an important issue in today’s world, where children are often raised by adults who have functional, but not legal or biological, ties to them.”
“We’re talking about people who have spent years driving their son or daughter to soccer practice, cooking family dinners, taking the child to the doctor, and paying for those trips to the doctor. What else can we call these people besides parents?” asked Mark Musico, a Clinic student who worked on the brief. “Once we recognize these people as parents, their legal rights must be the same as those of any other parent.”

The Court of Appeals is expected to hear argument in the Debra H. case in February.
To contact Professor Suzanne B. Goldberg: Call (212) 854- 0411; or email [email protected].
To contact Clinic students who worked on the brief, email: Harriet Antczak: [email protected]; Mark Musico: [email protected]; Seung-Jae Lee: [email protected]
Columbia Law School’s Sexuality & Gender Law Clinic addresses cutting-edge issues in sexuality and gender law through litigation, legislation, public policy analysis and other forms of advocacy.
Columbia Law School, founded in 1858, stands at the forefront of legal education and of the law in a global society. Columbia Law School joins traditional strengths in international and comparative law, constitutional law, administrative law, business law and human rights law with pioneering work in the areas of intellectual property, digital technology, sexuality and gender, and criminal law.