A landmark ruling by a Pennsylvania court could set crucial precedent for child custody decisions when LGBTQ+ couples separate or divorce.
Nicole Junior and Chanel Glover went through the entire IVF process together, splitting the massive costs to help Glover get pregnant, co-signing contracts, and establishing Junior as the intended co-parent, according to a report from the Philadelphia Inquirer. They had also been working on paperwork for Junior to obtain a second-parent adoption.
But the couple experienced trouble in their marriage when Glover was about halfway through the pregnancy. Once Junior moved out, Glover declared she wanted to be a single mom and that Junior would not be allowed any contact with the baby.
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The court, however, decided Glover had no right to make that decision.
Junior petitioned to be recognized as the baby’s parent, and the judge agreed that she deserved to be, as the couple had participated in the conception of the baby together.
Glover accused Junior of emotional abuse and volatile behavior, but Junior denied the accusations. The judge said accusations of abuse also do not have bearing on parental rights and could be discussed in a future custody hearing.
Glover appealed the judge’s decision just before the baby was born, and in August 2023, a panel of nine judges on the Pennsylvania Superior Court unanimously determined that Junior deserved full co-parental rights due to the couple’s “intent-based parentage.”
The decision declared, “The couple not only evidenced their mutual intent to conceive and raise the child, but they also participated jointly in the process of creating a new life.”
The decision is considered a victory by LGBTQ+ advocates, who praised the court for thinking beyond marriage and genetic connections for what makes someone a parent – especially as the number of LGBTQ+ people using assisted reproductive technologies continues to rise.
Helen Casale, a fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, told the Inquirer the state now has precedent for judges to take into account the decisions and actions that lead to a child’s birth.
“How did they come to this determination to plan this family together?” Casale explained. “Did they go to doctors appointments? Did they make decisions related to the type of person who’s going to be the sperm donor?”
Attorney Mark A. Momjian described the suit as a “multigenerational legal battle to confirm civil rights in the LGBTQ community.”
Grover is now trying to get the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to take the case. According to Inquirer, she said someone contributing money to the IVF process is not enough to show intent, and if it were, her mom could claim parental rights as well.
“My mom was at the majority of my doctors appointments, majority of my son’s pediatrician appointments. My mom has done more,” Grover said.
But Junior has desperately been trying to be part of the child’s life. She has yet to meet her son or even see a photo of him since he was born.