Jonathan Sporn and Leann Leutner were a long-time but unmarried couple. (The unmarried part turns out to be critical.) They wanted to start a family but had trouble conceiving. They ended up using IVF and (also critically) sperm from a third-party. Lincoln Amory Aurelian Sporn Leutner was born last July.
Sadly, Leutner died January 1. Now the question is what becomes of Lincoln. The child is in foster care and is deemed to be “destitute” in the eyes of New York State. While Sporn wants to raise the child in his home, Leutner’s sister, Susan Sylvester, also wants to raise the child. (She lives in Illinois and there is no information about how involved in the child’s life she might have been.)
Lincoln lived with Sporn and Leunter his entire life, and it seems fairly clear that Sporn had functioned as a parent for that time. But that doesn’t seem to matter under NY law. Sporn doesn’t register as a legal parent.
Of course, if Sporn and Leutner had been married, Sporn would be a legal father–even if he didn’t want to be one. (You can see how that plays out in the Engelking case I talked about in an earlier post.) And if he’d been the source of the sperm he’d probably be okay, too. (That’s akin to what happened in a recent Virginia case, also the subject of discussion here.) Now in both of those cases the men had psychological/social relationships with the children–as Sporn did here. But from a legal standpoint, those relationships didn’t matter at all. The existence of these relationships matter to me and so I would see all three cases as quite similar–each of these men ought to be recognized as a legal parent–but that’s not the way the law is.
Sporn and Leutner weren’t married and Sporn isn’t genetically related. That’s all the law seems to notice. Surely there were other ways he might have become a legal parent–he could have adopted the child, for instance. But he didn’t do that, or maybe they just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. Bonded though he may be, the law does not give him any status beyond that of a legal stranger.
And here, I think, the law fails children. It’s hardly Lincoln’s fault that his parents didn’t marry or that they didn’t sign the right forms. And yet here he stands to lose the one remaining real, hands-on and very likely psychological parent that he has because they didn’t do those things. I’ll try to keep a watch out on this case. There’s a hearing scheduled for March. Apparently the judge understands that speed really does matter here–after all, for the time being Lincoln is in foster care and I guess everyone knows that’s not a permanent arrangement.