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Friday, October 06, 2017

First Department Holds "Presumption of Legitimacy"applies to a Child Born to a Same-sex Married Couple

In re Maria-Irene D, 2017 WL 4287334 (1st Dept., 2017) the Appellate Division affirmed an order which vacated an adoption. Appellant Marco D. and respondent Han Ming T. (Ming), both British citizens, entered a civil union in the United Kingdom (UK) in 2008, which they converted into a legal marriage in 2015, effective as of the date of their civil union. In 2013, the couple jointly executed an egg donor and surrogacy agreement with the intention of becoming parents. Both contributed sperm, and the embryo fertilized by Marco’s sperm was transferred to the surrogate. The child was born in September 2014. The couple commenced a proceeding in Missouri to terminate the egg donor and surrogate’s parental rights to the child. In October 2014, the Missouri court awarded Marco, as the genetic father, “sole and exclusive custody” of the child. Marco, Ming, and the child returned to Florida, where they lived as a family until October 2015, when Ming returned to the UK to seek employment. At some point in or after 2013, Marco entered a relationship with petitioner Carlos A., and they moved to New York with the child after Ming went to the UK. In January 2016, Carlos filed a petition in New York to adopt the child. In the adoption papers, Carlos disclosed that Marco and Ming were married in 2008, but alleged that they had not lived together continuously since 2012 and that Carlos and Marco had been caring for the child since her birth. A home study report stated that Marco and Ming legally separated in 2013 and had no children together. Ming’s role in the surrogacy process was not disclosed, nor was the Florida divorce action commenced by Ming in March 2016 in which he sought joint custody of the child.

Family Court granted Ming’s motion, and vacated the adoption pursuant to Domestic Relations Law § 114(3), finding that Carlos and Marco had made material misrepresentations to the court that provided sufficient cause to vacate, and that Ming was entitled to notice of the adoption proceeding. The Appellate Division affirmed. It found that Ming and Marco’s marriage in the UK was effective as of August 2008. New York courts as a matter of comity will recognize such out-of-state marriages (see e.g. Matter of Mott v. Duncan Petroleum Trans., 51 N.Y.2d 289, 292 [1980] ). The child was born in 2014, as the result of jointly executed surrogacy agreements, at a time when the couple was considered legally married, thus giving rise to the presumption that the child was the legitimate child of both Marco and Ming (see Domestic Relations Law § 24; Matter of Fay, 44 N.Y.2d 137 [1978]). After the child was born, Marco, Ming and the child lived together as a family, and the couple took affirmative steps in the UK to establish Ming’s parental rights in accordance with UK law. Under these circumstances, the Missouri judgment in 2014 awarding Marco sole and exclusive custody of the child, as opposed to the egg donor and surrogate, was insufficient to rebut the presumption of legitimacy. Marco and Ming were deemed legally married when they embarked on the surrogacy process to have a child together (see Debra H. v. Janice R., 14 NY3d 576 [2010], cert denied 562 U.S. 1136 [2011] ). Accordingly, the child was born in wedlock, and Ming was entitled to notice of the adoption proceeding (see Domestic Relations Law § 111[1][b] ). Petitioner’s failure to disclose the Florida divorce action, in which the child was named as a child of the marriage and Ming sought joint custody, provided another ground to vacate the adoption (see Domestic Relations Law § 114[3] ). The adoption petition required petitioner to give a sworn statement that the child to be adopted was not the subject of any proceeding affecting his or her custody or status. Even though petitioner was aware of the Florida divorce action before finalization of the adoption, he failed to disclose the action to the court, instead averring in a supplemental affidavit that there had been no change in circumstances “whatsoever” since the filing of the adoption petition.

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