Tuesday the Western District Court of Appeals in Kansas City, Missouri held that a woman who planned for and raised twin children with her long-term same-sex partner can seek custody of the children.
In McGaw v. McGaw, two women in a committed relationship had twins through donor insemination and raised the children together as a family for more than nine years. After the couple broke up, the biological mother, Angela, kept Melissa from seeing the children, and Melissa filed a custody suit to protect her relationship with the children.
The decision Tuesday recognizes that Melissa has been a parent to the children for the children’s entire lives and that she may seek custody to protect those parent-child bonds, even though she is not a biological parent. The Court of Appeals overruled an earlier decision, White v. White, which had previously ruled that non-biological parents could not petition for custody.
“Today’s ruling is a great victory for Missouri’s children,” said Cathy Sakimura, Family Law Director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, who represented Melissa. “Every family deserves legal protection and respect. The Court recognized that the law should support families, not destroy them, and that children benefit when they can receive love and support from both parents.”
“I’m so grateful to be recognized by the court,” said Melissa. “I love my children more than anything and I want to be there for them.”
Tuesday’s ruling protects unmarried parents who do not have a biological connection with their children, including both same-sex and opposite-sex parents. Couples who are married when their children are born, regardless of the couple’s gender, are legally-recognized as parents under Missouri law.
Melissa is represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Missouri attorneys Rochelle Kaskowitz, Elizabeth Hodges, and Aaron House.
The ACLU of Missouri and twenty-one family law professors filed amici briefs in support of Melissa McGaw.