(Oklahoma City, OK, November 12, 2014)—In a victory for all LGBTQ families in Oklahoma, the state’s Supreme Court ruled today that non-biological parents in a same-sex relationship can seek custody of children they raised based on an agreement to parent together. The decision found that there is no public policy in Oklahoma against a child having same-sex parents, and if a biological parent jointly conceives children with a non-biological parent and then raises those children together, she cannot deny the other parent the ability to seek custody or visitation based on their agreement.
“We applaud the Oklahoma Supreme Court for recognizing that when two parents raise a child together, both parents should be allowed to seek custody, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, or biological ties,” said National Center for Lesbian Rights Family Law Director Cathy Sakimura. “This decision recognizes that every child’s best interests must be protected when their parents break up, no matter what their family looks like.”
Julie Eldredge and Karen Taylor were in a long-term relationship and entered a civil union in New Zealand. They jointly decided to have two children through donor insemination, who they raised together for seven years until Karen, the biological mother, unilaterally cut off contact between Julie and the children. Julie sought shared custody of the children, but the trial court denied her petition for lack of standing.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that Julie is able to seek custody based on the parties’ agreement to parent the children, so long as custody is in the best interests of the children. The Court also noted that same-sex parents in Oklahoma may obtain second parent adoptions, where the non-biological parent may adopt without terminating the biological parent’s rights, but that same-sex parents who do not adopt may still seek custody based on an agreement. The Court explained: “The public policy of this State mandates that the district court consider the best interests of the children before they lose one of the only two parents they have ever known.”
“The real winners here are the children, whose rights to have loving parents are protected,” said Melody Huckaby Rowlett, attorney for Julie Eldredge.
Julie Eldredge is represented by Melody Huckaby Rowlett of the Rowlett Law Office. NCLR provided technical assistance to Julie’s attorney during the appeal.