Court Grants Custody to Three “Parents”

49949771_sCommentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS

A New York judge has ruled that the three “parents” of a child conceived in a polyamorous relationship will all have custody of their 10 year-old son.

The New York Post is reporting on the bizarre case of Dawn and Michael Marano who were married in 1994 and had a conventional marriage until the two befriended a female neighbor in 2001.

The neighbor, named Audria Garcia, had been living with her boyfriend at the time but when they split up, she decided to move in with the Maranos. In time, the relationship became intimate.

Dawn Marano, 47, was infertile, so her husband Michael, 50, decided to father a child with Garcia, 48. Their child, a boy, was born on January 25, 2007.

“It was agreed, before a child was conceived, that [the Maranos and Garcia] would all raise the child together as parents,” Suffolk County Supreme Court Judge H. Patrick Leis III wrote in the ruling for the first-of-its-kind case in New York.

Dawn’s insurance covered Garcia’s pregnancy and the two women shared in the caregiving, taking turns getting up in the middle of the night to feed the baby and attending doctor appointments together.

For 18 months, they seemed to be one big happy family – until Garcia and Dawn decided they wanted to begin a lesbian relationship. The two moved out in 2008 and took the child with them.

As a result, Michael sued Garcia for custody of their son, and Dawn sued Michael for divorce.

Michael and Garcia agreed to joint custody, but Dawn was left with nothing because she was not the child’s biological parent, nor was she his adoptive mother. Consequently, she had no legal right to custody.

Dawn, who still lives with Garcia, decided to sue “to secure custody rights for [the boy] because she fears that without court-ordered visitation and shared custody, her ability to remain in [the boy’s] life would be solely dependent upon obtaining the consent of either Audria or [Michael],” Judge Leis explained.

As the Post reports, Michael opposed his ex-wife’s custody bid, which sent the case to trial, during which time Leis chastised him, noting that no one had told him “to conceive a child with his wife’s best friend.”

Leis cited a ruling by the state’s highest court last summer that allowed nonbiological or adoptive parents to seek custody of a child if they had a prior relationship with that child.

“The judge took cues from the boy himself in making the unusual decision,” the Post reports. “Asked how he told his two moms apart, the child had explained that one was the ‘mommy with the orange truck’ and the other the ‘mommy with the gray truck’.”

This led Leis to conclude that the boy knows the “two women as his mother.”

As a result, Dawn now has custody of the boy on Wednesday evenings, as well as one week of vacation during the school year and two weeks in the summer. Garcia has residential custody, while Michael Marano gets the boy on the weekends.

“They’re thrilled with the ruling, absolutely thrilled,” said Dawn Marano’s attorney, Karen Silverman.

And the child? We can only wonder what impact this will have on him as he is now forced to shuttle between two different homes every week. First, he will have to contend with the downside of joint physical custody which includes causing confusion in a child’s life due to the constantly changing physical environment.

Second, the arrangement runs the risk of becoming suddenly untenable for the boy when one of the parents develops a new relationship and the child is forced to accept yet another “parent” – who is essentially a complete stranger – into their lives.

Third, because of the peculiarity of this “tri-custody” case, this child is forced to deal with a father who was scorned by his wife who is now living with the woman who conceived him.

It’s hard to imagine a more convoluted living situation for a child, and yet the “parents” as well as the judge insist that this was in his best interests. If this arrangement is the best, we can only wonder what their idea of a worst-case scenario might be.

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