Vermont’s High Court Hears Parentage Case Involving Lesbian Co-Parents

Lesbian Co-Parents

Today Vermont’s Supreme Court heard arguments in Sinnott v. Peck, a case involving a lesbian couple who raised two adopted children together for over ten years. Following the dissolution of their relationship and after jointly parenting for over three years, the adoptive mom began limiting Sarah Sinnott’s contact with the children.

When Jennifer Peck and Sarah’s relationship ended in 2010, they agreed to co-parent the girls, who were five and eight years old at the time. For three years, they shared and evenly divided parental rights and responsibilities. Beginning in 2013, Jenny began disrupting the relationship between Sarah and the girls, causing Sarah to be concerned that their relationship was at risk.

But when Sarah filed a Petition to Establish Parentage with the Vermont Superior Court’s Family Division in August 2015, the court declined to accept her filing. The court said it was disinclined to hear parentage actions from “third parties” where there has been no adoption, marriage or civil union, ignoring the parent-child relationship established between Sarah and the two children.

The argument before the Supreme Court today seeks to establish Sarah’s right to be heard in family court, as a non-marital partner who jointly raised the children with her former partner. The brief in the case can be read here.

“Sarah is Mama to these children. No matter the label put on her by a court, she is a parent in their eyes,” said Jennifer Levi, Senior Staff Attorney for GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), who argued on Sarah’s behalf today.“The court needs to protect children-parent relationships, like Sarah’s, those that were formed and developed with the encouragement of the adoptive parent. She should be able to pursue a parentage action.”

Levi added, “Sarah, alongside Jenny, has acted as a parent and has been held out to the world as a parent. For lots of reasons, many parents do not or cannot marry or meet all of the legal formalities required to finalize second-parent adoptions. Their children should not have to pay the price for that.”

“All I care about is providing love, stability, and continuity in the lives of my girls”, said Sarah. “I want them to have the security of knowing that I will always be responsible for them and will always be their mother. I love them and I always will.”

Sarah Sinnott is also represented by Sarah Star, Esq.

Through strategic litigation, public policy advocacy, and education, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders works in New England and nationally to create a just society free of discrimination based on gender identity and expression, HIV status, and sexual orientation.

[From a News Release]

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