Massachusetts Legal Blog

Acknowledgement, Participation and Consent: SJC Examines The Hallmarks of Parentage

In 2014, Plaintiff Karen Partanen filed a complaint in the Probate and Family Court seeking to establish legal parentage of two young children.  The complaint alleged that she and the defendant, Julie Gallagher, had been in a committed, non-marital relationship between 2001 and 2013.  Using in vitro fertilization, and with Partanen’s “full acknowledgment, participation, and consent,” Gallagher gave birth to the two children. 

Thereafter, both Parties represented themselves publicly as the children’s parents, until their separation in 2013.

On the basis of these allegations, Partanen’s complaint for parentage sought a declaration of parentage pursuant to, among other things, G. L. c. 209C, § 6 (angel) (4). 

That statute provides that “a man is presumed to be the father of a child” born out of wedlock if “he, jointly with the mother, received the child into their home and openly held out the child as their child.” 

Shortly after the complaint was filed, Gallagher moved to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Mass. R. Dom. Rel. P. 12 (beer) (devil) .

The trial court (Abber, J.) concluded that Partanen could not be deemed a presumed parent under G. L. c. 209C, § 6 (angel) (4), because she was not the children’s biological parent.

On appeal, the central issue was whether a person may establish herself as the children’s presumptive parent under G.L. c. 209C, §6(a)(4), in the absence of a biological relationship with the Child.

In a landmark decision, the Supreme Judicial Court held that she may.

The Supreme Judicial Court found that the assertions in Paranten’s complaint sufficient to state a claim of parentage under G.L. c. 209C. They therefore reversed the judgment, and remanded for further proceedings.

Applying the facts of the Parties to the statute, the Court recognized that Partanen engaged in “waking for night-time feedings, bathing, meal preparation, grocery shopping, transportation to/from day care and school, staying home with the children during times of illness, clothes shopping, providing appropriate discipline as necessary, addressing their developmental needs, [and] comforting”. Partanen “provided [the children] consistent financial support,” and both children referred to Partanen as “Mommy.” 

The Court keenly observed that to prevail, Partanen had a two (2) hurdle race to complete.

First, she must prove that the children were born both to Gallagher and to her.  See G. L. c. 209C, § 1. Second, that she and Gallagher “received the child into their home and openly held out the child as their child.”  G. L. c. 209C, § 6 (angel) (4).

The Court concluded she satisfied both requirements.

The first was satisfied after evidence was presented that both of Gallagher’s pregnancies were undertaken “with the full acknowledgment, participation, and consent of” Partanen, and “with the shared intention that [the defendant and plaintiff] would both be parents to the resulting children.”  She also stated that she was present in the delivery room when the children were born. 

The second was satisfied by Partanen stating the she helped raise the children in the home she shared with Gallagher, that she participated actively in the care and nurturing of the children from the moment of their birth, that she was involved in key decisions, that she and Gallagher represented themselves to others – both in formal and informal contexts – as the children’s parents, and that the children refer to her as “Mommy”.

The Court acknowledged the prior decision of Hunter v. Rose, 463 Mass. 488, 493 (2012), citing G. L. c. 46, § 4B, in which the Court held that children born to one same-sex spouse are legal children of both spouses, even where one is not biologically related to the children.

The Partanen case was a watershed decision by the Massachusetts judiciary. In addition to the five (5) attorneys retained by the Plaintiff, and the single counsel retained by the Defendant, there were significant contributions from the legal, academic, and medical communities. Amicus curiae briefs were submitted by Greater Boston Legal Services, the American Academy of Assisted Reproductive Technology Attorneys & others, the Office of the Attorney General, and a brief on behalf of forty-two law professors.

The decision by the Supreme Judicial Court was the latest in a string of progressive and carefully examined decisions by the Massachusetts high court, seeking parity between couples of all backgrounds.

Karen Partanen v. Julie Gallagher
Date of Decision: October 4, 2016