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News - 2015

Oct. 2015

Elizabeth Roberts Persuades Massachusetts Family Court Judge to Award Joint Child Custody to De Facto Parent

Elizabeth A. Roberts persuaded a Massachusetts Probate and Family Court judge to award joint legal and physical custody of children to a same-sex, non-biological parent, in a case believed to be the first of its kind in Massachusetts.

The ruling by Judge John D. Casey in Partanen v. Gallagher states that the law permits a de facto parent to have custodial rights to children she parented since their birth. The detailed ruling, while not precedential, may be considered by other courts in the state in pending de facto parent cases.

The plaintiff mother, Karen Partanen, was in a long-term relationship spanning over a decade with the biological mother of their two children. Partanen participated in the artificial insemination decision making, and was present for the inseminations that resulted in the two pregnancies in 2008 and 2012.

The parties resided together and jointly raised the children from birth until the couple separated in 2014.

The Court found that both parents "exercised joint responsibility for the children." The parties also, according to the ruling, "continue to co-parent the children remarkably well" since their separation.

"This is a good ruling for families of all types," said Roberts. "The decision is important because it recognizes that same-sex, non-biological, de facto parents have custodial rights, not merely the right to visitation, when they act and are held out as a parent to others. The court recognized that a child's best interests are served to have both parents recognized in the eyes of the law."

Roberts represented Partanen, along with co-counsel Teresa Harkins La Vita of La Vita Law Center.

Roberts concentrates her practice on domestic relations law, assisting clients in a wide range of family law matters, including divorce, child custody, prenuptials, postnuptials, adoptions, removal cases, and unmarried partners.