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Parental Rights for Same Sex Couples in New Mexico

In a recent landmark case known as Chatterjee v. King, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled on some very important issues involving same sex couples and their rights to establish parentage under New Mexico‘s Uniform Parentage Act (“the UPA”) and child custody under New Mexico‘s Dissolution of Marriage Act.

The facts as stated in the opinion are as follows. Chatterjee and King were involved in a long-term, committed, domestic relationship during which they agreed that they wanted to have a child. With Chatterjee‘s full support and participation, King adopted a child from Russia.

Chatterjee presented evidence to the court that she supported King and her child financially, that they all lived together as a family, and that she actively co-parented the child. After several years Chatterjee and King, chose to end their relationship, at which point Chatterjee had not adopted the child. King moved to Colorado and tried to prevent Chatterjee from having any contact at all with the child. Chatterjee then filed a petition with the district court to establish parentage and determine custody and time sharing.

In reaching its decision, the Court had to examine the question of whether or not there were sufficient facts to establish that Chatterjee was an interested party under the UPA, which would give her standing to establish parentage. In this regard the Court applied Section 40-11-5(A)(4) of the UPA, which sets the forth criteria required to establish a presumption that a man is a natural parent. The Court reasoned that like a man, it is practical for a woman to hold a child out as her own by providing emotional and financial support for the child.

The court discussed at least two important reasons for reaching this decision. First, to reach a different result could raise constitutional concerns in that the UPA would apply differently to similarly situated men and women. For example, if the court ruled that Section 40-11-5(A)(4) of the UPA applied only to men, then a man in a same sex relationship who claimed to be a natural parent based on the fact that he held the child out as his own would have standing because of his gender, while a woman in the same position would not. In other words, if the Chaterjee case had involved a same sex relationship between two men , then a man in the same position as Chatterjee would have had standing to establish parentage under the UPA, while Chatterjee would not.

Equally important is the Court‘s recognition of parents‘ obligation to support their children. The Court cited some statistics that show that in 2000 the idea of a “traditional” American family–mom, dad and two children–only applied to 23.5% of the population. For this reason, the Court concluded that it is in New Mexico‘s best interest that parents are identifiable in order to ensure that parents‘ obligation to support their children is met.

Having determined that Chatterjee had the right to establish parentage under the New Mexico UPA, the Court also concluded that she had standing to seek joint custody under the New Mexico Dissolution of Marriage Act and remanded the case back to the lower court to address the details of custody, visitation and child support.

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