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Who is a Legal Parent? Part 1

Many have tried to frame the debate over same-sex marriage or LGBT rights to be a debate over the changing definition of parents and family.  But the truth is that the definition of family has been constantly changing and evolving and the definition of a parent has always differed from family to family.  Some people are raised by a male and female parent, and others are raised by a grandparent, or one parent, or two female or two male parents.  And many children have more than two people that function as parents and role models.

The definition of biological parent is clear; requiring a male and female genetic component to create a child.  However, defining the parents of a child is more complicated and can involve legal, psychological, ethical and biological components.  A parent might be a gestational parent, a biological parent, a legal parent, or even a parent by their actions, regardless of relationship.  And these definitions can and typically do overlap.

When these roles don't overlap exactly, the law can end up limiting or expanding the rights and obligations of a parent and sometimes the definition of "legal parent" can override the other definitions, taking children away from someone who might otherwise be considered a parent.  Legal parentage comes with rights and obligations such as the right of access or parenting time with the child, and possibly the obligation of financially supporting the child.  Because these rights and obligations can have a huge impact on the welfare and health of a child it is important to understand the basics of who is and who is not a "legal parent."

In this blog series we will explore this definition of "legal parent" and how it can limit or expand the roles of people otherwise acting as parents to a child.   We will explore the different ways that a parent can become a legal parent, whether or not they are a biological parent or play an active parental role in the child's life.

Who is a Legal Parent?

Part 2: Married with Children (post by Valerie Kua): The Presumption of Legal Parentage to a child born of a Marriage;

Part 3: UnMarried with Children: The Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage;

Part 4: 99.9% Probability of Paternity: The Judgment of Paternity and Genetic Market Testing;

Part 5: Adoption (post from Julie Tolek): Becoming the legal parent of a non-biological child through the adoption process (including step-parent adoption);

Part 6: Co-Parent Adoption (guest post from Joyce Kauffman and Patience Crozier): Adoptions in a co-parenting situation, and specifically same-sex relationships and marriages;

Part 7: Three's Company (post from Julie Tolek): Adoptions in a three parent situation;

Plus 3 posts discussing roles that include partial parenting rights:

Part 8: De Facto Parents: Parents who have no biological relation to the child, but have participated in the child’s life as a member of the child’s family;

Part 9: Grandparent Visitation Rights v. De Facto Parents: Grandparent visitation rights in Massachusetts;

Part 10: Guardianship: A person appointed by the court to make non-financial decisions for another person.

Redux: Partanen v. Gallagher - A child's presumptive parent may establish a legal parenting relationship under G. L. c. 209C, § 6 (a) (4), even in the absence of a biological relationship with the child.

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