A Missouri appeals court has ruled that a Kansas City woman has the right to seek custody and visitation with the children she and her lesbian partner parented together before they broke up.
Although Melissa McGaw is not the biological mother of the twins born in 2004, the Western District Court of Appeals in Kansas City found Tuesday that state law affords her the right to seek custody and visitation rights.
“Today’s ruling is a great victory for Missouri’s children,” Cathy Sakimura, family law director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said in a written statement. “Every family deserves legal protection and respect. The court recognized that the law should support families, not destroy them, and that children benefit when they can receive love and support from both parents.”
Tuesday’s ruling came after McGaw appealed a lower court ruling that found that McGaw lacked standing to seek custody because she was not biologically related to the children.
While it denied her appeal on the legal issues she raised, the court said that she can seek custody and visitation rights under the Missouri law that grants third parties the right to seek custody and visitation.
“I’m so grateful to be recognized by the court,” McGaw said in a written statement. “I love my children more than anything and I want to be there for them.”
McGaw and her partner Angela McGaw started dating in 1995 and later had a “commitment ceremony.” Melissa legally changed her name to McGaw. The couple bought a home together and later decided to have children.
Angela gave birth to the twins conceived from an anonymous sperm donor the women chose.
They raised the children together until they separated in 2007 and Melissa moved out of the home.
They established a visitation schedule and shared child-rearing expenses until June 2013, when Angela stopped allowing Melissa to see the children.
In Tuesday’s ruling, the appeals court noted that Melissa was not just any third party seeking custody or visitation.
The action is being asserted “by an individual who was specifically invited by a biological parent to act as a parent of the children at issue, and in fact acted in that capacity for an extended period of time,” the court found.
The ruling also noted that Melissa and Angela McGaw began and ended their relationship when same-sex couples did not have the right to legally marry.
Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has established that right, the Missouri appeals court said it anticipates that cases such as theirs, where “important issues involving children must be decided outside the established legal framework applicable to married couples, will occur less frequently.”