Though researchers tell us everyday that Americans increasingly resemble the families seen on “Modern Family,” our judicial system in many ways appears stuck in the time of “Leave It to Beaver.” Gay rights and gay parenting have changed by leaps and bounds over the past few decades. A whopping 41% of all new births are among single women. The idea of what a family is has changed a lot in the minds of many, but our legal system has been slow to warm to the changes.
A good example of the gap between modern realities and the legal system is occurring right now in New York. A state seen as quite progressive is stuck with outdated family law ideas. The New York Times discussed the case of a man named Jonathan Sporn, a pharmaceuticals exec living in Manhattan.
Dr. Sporn filed a petition last month saying that he and his then girlfriend, Leann Leutner, had a baby boy last summer. The couple had conception problems and used a sperm donor. The two had been dating for a number of years and had been living together since 2010, but after having each been divorced once before, the two decided to raise the child as a non-married couple.
The problem arose in December when Leutner, a lawyer with a prominent New York firm, took the child and left the apartment she shared with Sporn for a new apartment in New Jersey. Only a few days later Leutner killed herself. The death was shocking, but not totally out of the blue. She had suffered from psychological problems off and on for years and they were made worse due to her severe postpartum depression.
Since Leutner died, the baby has been with child protective services and is in foster care in New York City despite desperate pleas by Sporn to have the child returned to him. Leutner’s sister, who lives in Chicago, has also filed a petition asking for custody. The judge assigned to the case agreed that visits by social workers confirmed that either case would be an acceptable home for the child, yet the baby has not been given to Sporn because he is technically viewed as “destitute.” The term refers to those children with no known parents, a curious definition given that Sporn is alive and well.
The problem is that under New York law, Dr. Sporn has no real relationship to the child. He was never married to the baby’s mother and has no biological connection to the boy. He also had not yet taken any formal legal steps to adopt him. The case resembles many cases of gay parents who never formally adopted their children and then are thrown into custody cases when their relationships sour and are shocked to discover they have no legal parental rights.
Fifty years ago being an illegitimate child was a serious matter that came with lots of legal limits. The U.S. Supreme Court took action to protect the children of unmarried couples from legal harm but this and other recent cases prove that there is still a lot of ground yet to be covered. While we may enjoy Modern Family on television, our court system has yet to adapt to modern life.
If you find yourself facing the prospect of complicated divorce and have questions about your rights and options, contact an experienced Ohio family law attorney who can help guide you through the difficult process. Count on the expertise of Twinsburg family law attorney Carol L. Stephan.
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