I’m diverging from the ongoing conversation that arose from the Bode Miller custody case (which we can always come back to) to talk about a brand-new (as of this AM) Washington case. And really, I’m happy to have it to talk about because sometimes I get the feeling that some of you think I am generally anti-male/anti-father. Here’s a case that (might) help convince you I’m not.
It’s called In Re BMH and is from the Washington Supreme Court. I’m only going to do a superficial job at the moment (both Hanukkah and Thanksgiving approach), but it’s a start.
Laurie and Michael Holt began a romantic relationship in 1993. In 1995 they had a son, CH. They never married and they separated in 1998. (Just so you’re not in suspense, I think it is quite clear that Michael Hold is a legal parent of CH and that’s not in question here.)
Just a little while later, Laurie Holt became engaged to another man. She and this new man conceived a child. But the fiancée was killed in 1999 in an accident when she was three months pregnant. The eventual child is BMH.
After the death of the fiancée, Michael Hold reappeared in Laurie Holt’s life. In the words of the court, he provided “significant emotional support” during the pregnancy, was present at the birth and cut the umbilical cord.
The Holts married, but ended up divorcing in 2001. The parenting plan for CH provided that CH would live with Laurie Holt during the week and Michael Hold every other weekend. BMH wasn’t in the plan but the children followed the same schedule.
Michael Holt remained a part of BMH’s life. The child’s last name was changed to his last name. Though the Holts discussed adoption they decided against it as they thought it might endanger survivor benefits BMH received because of the death of his biological father.
There’s a lot more detail in the opinion, but the long and short of it is that in 2009/10 Laurie Holt proposed to move, with BMH, a distance way. It may not seem far (50 miles–not cross country) but it was enough to disrupt the relationship between Michael Holt and BMH. Michael Holt objected and sought recognition as a de facto parent of BMH.
Ultimately the court agrees that Michael Holt is entitled to be recognized as a de facto parent. He formed a parent-like relationship with BMH–one that lasted for years. He did so with the support and approval of Laurie Holt. He doesn’t fit any other category of legal parent.
There’s a long concurrence/dissent that makes a feminist case that this decision is bad for women. I need to read it more carefully before really commenting, but in general I don’t agree. Michael Holt didn’t just have a relationship with Laurie Holt. He had a close and enduring relationship with BMH. I think if a parent let’s another person form and maintain that sort of relationship for a long time, then they are bound by the choices they made. That’s the reality the child has lived with.
I think it’s a good decision but I’m sure there is more to say.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. And Hanukkah, too, if that’s applicable.