June 5, 2008

Virginia Court of Appeals Hands Down Victory for Parental Rights

Richmond, VA - In a victory for parents' rights, the Virginia Court of Appeals issued a 3-0 decision rejecting the so-called "de facto" or "psychological" parent doctrine. In Stadter v. Siperko the court refused to grant visitation to a former same-sex partner over the objections of the child’s biological mother. This case affirms the rights of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their children against the claims of third parties. Rena Lindevaldsen, Assistant Professor of Law at Liberty University School of Law and Of Counsel for Liberty Counsel, authored the amicus brief filed on behalf of the biological parent.

The case involves Jennifer Siperko and Christine Stadter who were in a lesbian relationship when Siperko had a child through artificial insemination. The child was given a hyphenated name combining the women's last names. Stadter did not adopt the child, but she did provide support. When the relationship dissolved more than a year after Siperko gave birth, Siperko broke off all contact with Stadter and refused to allow visitation. Stadter argued in court that she should be considered a "de facto" or "psychological" parent because of an emotional bond she had with the child.

Finding that Siperko is the fit, biological parent of the child, the Court ruled that the mother has a "fundamental" right to raise her child and a third party has no right to interfere. The Court refused to adopt the "de facto" or "psychological" parent doctrine, explaining that adopting the doctrine would constitute "judicial fiat" and that such decision must be made by the legislature, not the courts. The Court also found that the mother did not “waive” her parental rights by permitting Stadter to take on significant child care responsibilities.

The "de facto" or "psychological" parent doctrine has been used by same-sex marriage advocates to undermine the institution of marriage and weaken the rights of parents. This ruling is significant because some courts in other states have granted parental rights to third parties who are not biologically or legally related.

Mathew D. Staver, Founder of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law, commented: "The decision by the Virginia Court of Appeals is a model of judicial restraint. The Court affirmed the fundamental right of parents and recognized that third parties may not interfere with the rights of fit parents to raise and educate their children. This reasoning should be the unquestionable standard in every court. It is ludicrous to assert that someone can become a 'de facto' parent when there is no legal or biological relationship to the child. Courts should never create 'de facto' parenthood."

Read the Court of Appeals decision.


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