Pinellas County Woman’s Courtroom Loss is an Important Warning for Some Step-Parents and Same-Sex Parents

If you read or listen to enough material put out by doctors, you’ll inevitably hear many strong suggestions urging you see a particular type of doctor or undergo a particular test if your personal situation matches a certain set of facts. That’s not done just to “drum up” business. It’s done because doctors understand well the need for proper treatment of certain conditions and the risk when that issue isn’t addressed.

Family law and family law attorneys aren’t much different. There are certain people in certain situations out there who have a particularly high need for legal services, often because there’s a profoundly high risk that, if something goes wrong, it will go terribly wrong. An experienced South Florida family law attorney has the tools and resources to help you avoid that disaster scenario.

What do we mean by “terribly wrong”? Here’s an example, with a Tampa area woman who found herself in a heartbreaking situation because she hadn’t gotten the legal advice and legal services she needed when she needed them.

Christy and Nicole were a lesbian couple living in Ohio. They were in a committed relationship – they shared the same last name and they had decided to start a family. In July 2014, they had a child. Some lesbian couples may decide to have a child where each has a biological connection to the child – with one supplying the egg and the other partner carrying the child. This child, though, was the product of Nicole’s egg and Nicole was the one who carried it, meaning Christy had no biological connection to the child.

In the summer of 2014, both women signed a “coparenting agreement.” The agreement called the child “our child” and stated that the women wanted to share parental responsibility “jointly and equally.” The women, however, were not married (even though Ohio began recognizing out-of-state same-sex marriages in 2013,) and Christy never went through the court processes for a legal adoption of the child.

Ten months after the child’s birth, the family moved to Florida. Christy still took no action to ensure she had legal rights regarding the child, even though she and the child were now residents of a new state with different laws.

Christy and Nicole split up and Christy filed a legal action in court in Pinellas County asking to be named a legal parent of the child and be awarded joint parental responsibility and timesharing.

Yours is a perilous position when you have no biological or legal tie to a child

Christy lost because she had a big problem under the terms of Florida law. The only thing she’d done was sign a “coparenting agreement” in Ohio. In Florida, a parent’s right to raise her child as she sees fit is one of the strongest rights under the law here. Florida law says that contractual agreements between parents and non-parents regarding parental responsibility and timesharing aren’t enforceable. Because Christy was, legally, under the terms of Florida law, just another “non-parent,” that meant her Ohio agreement was worthless here.

Christy had never been the spouse of the child’s mother. Christy had never legally adopted the child. All Christy had was a document that Florida law didn’t recognize, and Florida courts couldn’t enforce. Because of those facts, along with the fact that Christy had no biological tie to the child, she was, technically, a “legal stranger” to the child and, as a result, was not entitled to share custody or to have timesharing. Christy could conceivably never see the child again (until the child became an adult) if that was what Nicole chose.

This terrible ending could have been averted if Christy had taken the right legal steps at the right time. While Christy’s scenario involved a same-sex relationship, these problems are not limited only to gay and lesbian couples. A heterosexual step-parent may have raised a child for all or almost all of a child’s life, but if he/she hasn’t taken the proper legal steps (such as, for example, adoption,) then he/she may be left with no rights if the relationship with the biological parent breaks down.

Regardless of the makeup of your family, don’t wait and don’t assume. Contact knowledgeable counsel and be sure your status is protected. Reach out to the South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. for thoughtful, sensitive and insightful solutions in your parental responsibility and timesharing case. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.