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N.Y. court allows 'close friends' to adopt child

By Bernard Vaughan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - In a decision that could make it easier for a broader category of people to adopt in New York state, a Manhattan judge has allowed the adoption of a child by two "close personal friends."

In permitting adoption of the child by the friends, a Manhattan man and a Brooklyn woman, Surrogate Court Judge Rita Mella cited a 2010 amendment to Section 110 of the state's Domestic Relations Law, which allows "two unmarried adult intimate partners" to adopt.

"Indeed, the experience of jointly and intentionally parenting a child is itself of the most intimate nature," Mella wrote in the December 27 opinion.

Judith Turkel, who represented the friends, said she believed the ruling was the first written decision in New York defining "intimate partners" in the context of adoption.

"I knew that the law has been moving forward in terms of broader recognition of the types of families that exist in New York and elsewhere," said Turkel, of Turkel Forman. "It was really important that the judge has defined intimate partners and perhaps expanded it for others to have families in the same way."

The decision was first reported by the New York Daily News.

According to the ruling, the woman previously had told the man she planned to use an anonymous sperm donor to conceive, and the man then offered to be the father, the decision said.

After two years of unsuccessfully trying to conceive through artificial insemination and in-vitro fertilization, they decided to adopt a child from Ethiopia, the ruling said. In 2011, they were informed that a little girl was available.

Since they were not married, they were not permitted to jointly adopt the child, so the woman adopted her alone, according to the ruling. After returning to the United States, the man petitioned the Manhattan Surrogate's Court to become the second legal parent.

Allowing him to adopt could enable the child, now 3 years old, to receive better health insurance, as well as social security benefits if the man became disabled or died, and enable the child to inherit from him should he die, according to the ruling.

While the man and woman live in separate households, they "have created a nurturing family environment," the judge said. The child spends time in both homes each week, and the parents consult with each other regularly on her development, Mella added.

Historically, Mella said, there has been a preference for giving adoptive children homes in nuclear families where the parents are husband and wife.

However, Mella wrote, "The 'nuclear family' has not represented the norm for large sections of the population in a long time."

Kevin Noble Maillard, a Syracuse University College of Law professor who focuses on family law and was not involved in the case, called the ruling "groundbreaking" and said it "opens the door for non-conjugal couples to legitimately call themselves a family."

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg)

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