(CN) — Massachusetts' highest court extended full parental rights to an unmarried gay woman who broke up with her partner, finding that a person can establish themselves as a parent without a biological connection.
The unanimous decision filed Tuesday by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court overruled a family court's dismissal of Karen Partanen's 2014 complaint against her former partner Julie Gallagher, in which she sought full legal rights to the couple's son and daughter following their split in 2013.
In that decision, a family court judge determined Partanen didn't meet the requirements under state law "because it was undisputed that she was not the children's biological parent."
Partanen and Gallagher never married during their 12-year relationship, nor did Partanen seek to adopt Gallagher's two biological children, but she was involved in all aspects of raising the pair since birth, court records show. The children, now 4 and 8 years old, reportedly call Partanen "Mommy" and Gallagher "Mama."
"Nothing in the language of [the state law] expressly limits its applicability to parentage claims based on asserted biological ties," Justice Barbara Lenk wrote for the state high court in a 22-page decision.
Partanen's attorney, Mary L. Bonauto of GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, or GLAD, called the ruling "a major victory for contemporary families, which are formed in so many different ways."
"It is especially a victory for the children in those families who should not be deprived of their parents because those parents are not married or used assisted reproduction," Bonauto said.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court remanded the case to Middlesex Probate and Family Court to be resolved under the new interpretation of state law.
The justices made it clear however, that Partanen's complaints "are sufficient to state a claim of parentage" and that evidence reveals "from the beginning, the children had two parents, both of whom were jointly involved in the children's lives."
"I could not be happier," Partanen said in a press release issued by GLAD. "All I've wanted is to give my children the sense of family, continuity, and permanency that come with my being their legal parent."
Partanen has shared custody of the children under a prior visitation order, but Tuesday's ruling will allow her to claim the children on legal documents, like their birth certificates, and establishes her legal role in issues including child support.
Gallagher can continue to fight Partanen's parentage claims, but her attorney Jennifer Lamanna told the Associated Press that Gallagher has yet to decide if she'll further contest the case in court.
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