There are many different types of families, each of which functions in a unique way. With approximately half of children being born to unmarried mothers, and with the lower cost of surrogacy treatments, parents can comprise almost any combination of people of either gender.
The law, however, is not so quick to catch up to this new normal. With paternity laws still based primarily on marriage and biological connection to the child, some situations involving unmarried fathers, and the rights of parents who conceive through different types of surrogacy and other Alternative Reproductive Technologies (ART) can still be questionable in some circumstances.
This plays out very sadly in a recent custody case that was filed in both the New York Family Court and the New York Supreme Court. (That is the name for the New York Courts of Common Pleas.) Big Law Associate and Democratic Party Community Organizer LeAnn Leutner was in a relationship with Doctor and Researcher Jonathon Sporn. As they were both getting older, Leutner desperately wanted to have children while she was still able. After a few months, when she was still not pregnant, they decided to try for pregnancy using a sperm donor. After several tries, this eventually worked, and Leutner gave birth to a baby boy named Lincoln.
Sporn and Leutner were allegedly having some relationship problems preceding and immediately following the birth. For whatever reason, Leutner left the paternity area on the birth certificate blank, taking away the opportunity for Sporn to claim legal paternity of baby Lincoln. However, at the time these legal technicalities probably did not seem important, because Sporn and Leutner were living together, and Sporn was proving to be a very involved father, who considered Lincoln to be his son. Sporn even exercised custody of Lincoln while Leutner was hospitalized for depression, and later after she moved into her own aoartment.
Tragically, Leutner took her own life. Upon her death, Lincoln was sent to Leutner’s sister, as his closest living relative. Sporn, who had acted as Lincoln’s father throughout his early life, was devastated. Both the Sister and Sporn filed petitions for custody in New York City, and the court is currently deciding this issue.
In Pennsylvania, parents may sign an acknowledgement of paternity upon the birth of the child, which may only be challenged after 60 days by evidence of fraud, collusion, or misstatement. In this case, no such acknowledgement was signed. However, in the custody proceed, Sporn would likely be able to petition for custody based on the theory of standing in loco parentis to the child because the child lived with him, was raised by him, and likely recognized him as his father, regardless of what the law would say. If in loco parentis status is granted, the court would determine thecustody issue based on the best interest of the child standard.
Determinations of child custody in this time of new familial forms can be complicated to work out. Our Pittsburgh Child Custody lawyers are there for you every step of the way, to protect you from your custody case going this way. Contact our team today!