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New Mexico court rules same-sex partner cannot seek child custody

The New Mexico Court of Appeals [official site] ruled [opinion, PDF] Wednesday that the same-sex partner of an adoptive mother has no standing to seek custody of the couple's child as a non-parent, but may request visitation. The court held that New Mexico's current child custody law provides no legal right for a non-parent to assert custody over a child and applies only to biological and adoptive parents. Accordingly, others, such as the unmarried partner of a parent, cannot seek custody absent a finding that the legal parent is unfit. In the majority opinion, Judge James Wechsler said "[i]t is the Legislature's responsibility to expand the requirements for standing if it wishes to do so." This holding breaks with previous decisions [AP report] in New Mexico that have favored recognizing psychological parenthood relationships.

The custody dispute involved former couple Bani Chatterjee and Taya King. In 2000, the couple adopted a one-year-old girl from Russia but, unsure how Russian adoption agencies would react to a same-sex couple, only King legally adopted the child. King and Chatterjee separated in 2008. Contending she shared in raising the couple's child for nine years and shared a parent-child relationship with King's daughter, Chatterjee filed suit in a state district court asking a judge to declare her a parent and decide custody and visitation. The judge, however, dismissed the case. Other jurisdictions have struggled with similar issues. Last year, a New York state appeals court ruled that a same-sex partner lacks standing to assert parental rights [JURIST report] over the biological child of her partner unless she has adopted the child.

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