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Oklahoma Court Ruling Raises Concerns for LGBTQ Parents

A complex paternity case in Oklahoma demonstrates how important it is for LGBTQ couples using gamete and embryo donations to do so using established legal processes and to pursue second parent adoptions, especially when they are forming non-traditional families courts are not legally permitted to recognize in most states.

In September of 2018, Rebekah Wilson and Harlan Vaughn created and signed a “contract” they both knew was legally insufficient. The document stated that if Wilson were to become pregnant with sperm provided by Vaughn, Wilson alone would raise a child, that Wilson and the child themselves would constitute a family, and that Vaughn would facilitate an adoption of the child by someone else if asked to do so by Wilson. Wilson and Vaughn met in Texas to sign the contract and then the two of them engaged in a series of “at-home, non-medically assisted, inseminations” which eventually led to Wilson becoming pregnant.

Wilson and Kris Williams wed in June of 2019, while Wilson was pregnant. The child was born later that summer, while they were married, even though the child was conceived before the marriage. It appears that Williams was named as the child’s second parent on the birth certificate and the couple raised the child together until November of 2021, when Wilson requested and received an emergency protective order against Williams following allegations of domestic violence. A no-contact order was subsequently entered between Williams and Wilson, which applied to the child and Williams has had no contact with the child since then. That same month, Wilson and the child moved in with Vaughn, who had moved to Oklahoma city in October to be closer to the child. All three adults referred to themselves as the child’s parents in various settings.

In December ‘21, Wilson filed for divorce from Williams and asserted that no children arose from the couple’s marriage. Williams filed a response and counterclaim arguing that the parties did have a child together. Wilson argued that although the child was born during the marriage, Vaughn had maintained his role in the child’s life and Williams had not established herself as a legal parent. In January 2022, Vaughn filed a paternity action to establish custody and parenting time. In his petition he names Wilson as the biological mother, acknowledges that Wilson was married to Williams at the time of the birth, and that no second parent adoption was filed after the child’s birth. During the trial, Wilson and Vaughn both testified that they did not believe their contract was valid and formally terminated it in February 2022. Wilson had another child fathered by Vaughn that they’re raising together in 2022. At the time of trial, they were co-habilitating and co-parenting.

The court found that while Williams acted in a parental role during the marriage and the beginning of the child’s life, case law suggests that the standard under Oklahoma law for establishing a meaningful relationship with a child is 8 years. Further, Williams knew that Oklahoma Law required her to adopt the child in order to establish parental rights, but explicitly chose not to do so. “There was a legal remedy available to Williams and she knowingly chose not to pursue it,” Judge Lynne McGuire wrote. Judge McGuire ruled that Wilson and Vaughn were the child’s legal parents and ordered the termination of Williams’ rights to the child.

This case demonstrates why when forming families, non-traditional parents need to be mindful to work within existing legal frameworks and use legal remedies available to them. For many families, the cost of this can be prohibitively high, but this case reinforces that the consequences of not doing so can be the loss of a parent-child relationship.

See the court ruling here

See the original article here: Lesbian mom loses parental rights, and wife, to sperm donor NBC

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