The traditional concept of the American family may have once been defined as a heterosexual married couple linked by biological offspring, but the contemporary definition of "family" is changing with the times. As treatments like in vitro fertilization gain footing as reliable forms of reproduction and unmarried and same-sex couples start families of their own, the genetic link between parent and child can be missing. And while family bonds may be just as strong as they ever were in this modern landscape, many state and federal laws fail to recognize the parental rights of men and women in these types of domestic arrangements. In fact, one recent child custody case highlights just how fragile the situation can be for parents in Illinois and all across the country.
It all began when a man and his girlfriend used in vitro fertilization to conceive a child together in July 2012. The couple used a sperm donor but the girlfriend carried the pregnancy. Sadly, the girlfriend committed suicide approximately five months after giving birth.
Now the man is fighting for custody of the baby, who was taken by child protective services after the child's mother died. Unfortunately, he has no legal claim to the child since he is neither the biological nor adoptive father. Even though the man has appealed to the court with his eagerness to raise the baby as his own, a child custody dispute such as this does not factor in emotional ties in many instances.
Until state and federal courts catch up with the times and set precedents for child custody cases like this, it is up to parents to protect themselves and their families legally. The man's paternal rights may have been guaranteed from the beginning if he had taken proper legal measures to adopt his son.
Source: The New York Times, "When the Law Says a Parent Isn't a Parent," Ginia Bellafante, Feb. 2, 2013