Sometimes an egg donor is a lot more than just an egg donor. The Florida Supreme Court recently granted joint custody and visitation rights to a lesbian woman who donated an egg to her partner, only to see the woman run off to Australia with the couple's daughter three years later. In a groundbreaking decision, the justices rejected the birth mother's claim to full child custody rights based on a Florida law that denies parental rights to egg and sperm donors.
Despite the fact that the biological mother had twice signed forms relinquishing parental rights at the time of egg donation, the case involved more than just the egg, according to the court. In its decision, the court noted that the women paid for the in-vitro fertilization from funds in a joint checking account, attended parenting classes and family counseling sessions together, and gave the little girl a hyphenated last name. The court held that those actions proved that the women planned to raise the child together, and that the law regarding egg and sperm donors did not apply in this situation.
The biological mother, who had not seen the little girl in six years, had been forced to hire a private detective to locate her daughter. Her ex-partner fled to Australia when the little girl was about three years old, severing all ties with the woman. When the birth mother returned to Florida with the child, she was uncooperative with the biological mother's requests to see her daughter, so she hired a lawyer to sue for custody and visitation.
Family advocates are hopeful that this landmark decision will help other couples struggling with child custody and visitation issues surrounding children born in nontraditional circumstances. Most couples do their best to arrange custody and visitation that is in the best interests of the child; an experienced family lawyer can work to make sure the parental rights of both parties are respected, as well.
Source: Reuters, "Lesbian ex-partner has parental rights: Florida Supreme Court," Jane Sutton, Nov. 7, 2013