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January 29, 2010

 

Kentucky top court upholds parenting agreement

Frankfort, Ky.--A divided Kentucky Supreme Court ruled on January 21 that a former couple’s custody agreement was valid, and the non-biological mother was a “de facto parent” according to Kentucky law.

While Arminta Jane Mullins and Phyllis Dianne Picklesimer were together, Picklesimer became pregnant via assisted fertilization, giving birth to a son in 2005.

The following year, they filed a joint custody agreement. However, the couple broke up two months later, and Picklesimer refused to allow Mullins, a police detective, to see the child.

Picklesimer petitioned the Garrard Circuit Court to void the custody agreement, but Judge Hunter Daugherty refused, saying that Mullins had functioned as a parent to the boy. Picklesimer appealed the decision, and the appellate court decided in her favor.

The state high court ruled that Kentucky law gives family members and other people who have been involved in raising a child the right to seek custody even if they are not biologically related to him or her.

The 4-3 ruling stated that the women had made numerous decisions regarding the child both before and after his birth, and Mullins continued to care for him for almost half a year after the couple separated.

“This would distinguish the nonparent acting as a parent to the child from a grandparent, a baby-sitter, or a boyfriend or girlfriend of the parent, who watched the child for the parent, but who was never intended by the parent to be doing so in the same capacity of another parent,” wrote Justice Wil Schroeder in the majority decision, quoted in the Danville Advocate-Messenger.

“In my line of work as a police officer, I come across biological parents who don’t care about their children or support them financially,” Mullins said. “Just because it’s biological doesn’t mean the love is there.”

Mullins’ attorney, Bill Erwin, was impressed with the court’s decision.

“It’s a really big deal,” he said. “The way they rendered the opinion will have a big impact on child custody cases in Kentucky.”

“Obviously it impacts gay and lesbian couples, but it goes well beyond that,” he continued. “It allows grandparents and others to gain custody if it’s in the best interest of the child. It gives family courts more leeway to do what’s right for the child.”

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