Monday, July 9, 2018

NY appellate court gets Gunn v. Hamilton wrong

The New York Times and the New Yorker are among the outlets that extensively covered Kelly Gunn's court action asserting parentage of Abush, a child adopted by her ex-partner Circe Hamilton.  The trial court ruled against Gunn, finding that the couple's plan to adopt a child together ended when their relationship ended, over a year before Abush was even identified as a child available for Circe to adopt.

Late last month, the appellate court refused to put the matter to rest.  It agreed with the trial court that Kelly was not a parent based upon the couple's earlier intent to raise a child together.  But it sent the case back to let Kelly try to prove that she should prevail on the grounds of equitable estoppel.  Circe did allow Abush to develop a relationship with Kelly, but it was never a parental relationship.  Kelly even referred to herself at one point as assuming a godmother role.

I find the result shocking.  Lots of children have extremely close relationships with adults other than their parents.  When the parent decides to relocate with the child, which is what happened here when Circe wanted to return to her native London, the child and adult may miss each other very much.  Nonetheless, a parent can make that choice about her family for reasons too numerous to list, such as cheaper cost of living, job opportunities, education opportunities, a new primary relationship, and family support.  

There was extensive evidence about Abush's relationship with Kelly and none of it pointed to a parent-child relationship.  The appeals court seems to think the child's perspective is necessary, but there is nothing the child can say that would turn Kelly into a parent.  And if the child's voice reported a close relationship with Kelly, that would still not make her a parent.  I find it useful to run the facts of the case through the new Uniform Parentage Act.  The UPA enumerates several paths to parentage, including a de facto parentage path.  Kelly would meet none of the UPA tests.

It is dangerous to allow the kind of challenge to a parent's authority sanctioned by this appellate court ruling, and it is especially dangerous for single parents.  I say this because I think the result would have been different if Circe had been raising Abush with a partner, even if the child had spent exactly the same amount and quality of time, and developed the same relationship, with Kelly.

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