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Michigan Supreme Court Expands Parental Rights of Same-Sex Parents

July 26, 2023

On July 24, 2023, the Michigan Supreme Court (“the Court”) issued a 5-2 ruling resulting in the expansion of parental rights for LGBTQ+ parents in the state. In Pueblo v Haas, the Court considered whether an unmarried, same-sex parent can seek custody and parenting time over a non-biological child conceived during a decades-long domestic partnership prior to the 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges which legalized same-sex marriage at a federal level.

The central legal argument before the Court concerned Michigan’s “equitable parent doctrine,” which allows non-biological parents the ability to petition the courts for custody and parenting time over their children if they were previously married. Plaintiff Pueblo argued that the Court should narrowly extend the doctrine to include same-sex couples who were prohibited from marrying by now-overturned state law; the Court agreed. “The children of same-sex partners bear no lesser rights to the enjoyment and support of two parents than children born to married opposite-sex parents,” Justice Megan Cavanagh wrote in the decision. “Justice does not depend on family composition; all who petition for recognition of their parental rights are entitled to equal treatment under the law,” Cavanagh wrote.

The Court’s two conservative justices, David Viviano and Brian Zahra, dissented. Justice Zahra cited “far-reaching ramifications,” claiming that the Court’s decision would be used by unmarried same-sex couples pre-Obergefell to petition the courts for “property division, spousal support and any other traditional areas of domestic-relations law that accompany a divorce.”

As a result of the ruling, an unmarried same-sex parent may now petition courts for custody and parenting time under the equitable parent doctrine provided proof is established that marriage would have occurred had it been legal prior to Obergefell. Therefore, plaintiff Pueblo can now petition a lower court for custody and parenting time.

Varnum’s full-service Family Law Team represents parties in all manner of sensitive disputes and parenting matters; please contact any member of our team to learn more.

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