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Partanen v. Gallagher: Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts holds that the absence of a biological relationship with a child


In a landmark decision, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts held that a person may establish herself as a child’s presumptive parent in the absence of a biological relationship with the child. Karen Partanen and Julie Gallagher were in a committed, nonmarital relationship for twelve years. Using in vitro fertilization, and with Partanen’s “full acknowledgment, participation, and consent,” Gallagher gave birth to two children. Partanen’s name was not on either child’s birth certificate nor did she ever adopt the children. Nonetheless, Partanen participated in raising the children from the time of their birth and she and Gallagher held themselves out as the children’s parents.

The parties separated in November 2013. Partanen filed an action to establish de facto parentage in February 2014 seeking visitation with the children and shared legal custody. In September 2015, the trial court (Casey, J.) ruled that Partanen was a de facto parent of the children, issued orders regarding visitation, and required her to pay child support.

Partanen subsequently filed this action to establish full legal parentage pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws c. 209C, § 6(a)(4). Gallagher filed a Motion to Dismiss said complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The trial court (Abber, J.) granted Gallagher’s Motion to Dismiss and dismissed Partanen’s Complaint concluding that Partanen could not be deemed a presumed parent under Mass. Gen. Laws c. 209C, § 6(a)(4) because she was not the children’s biological parent.

The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the decision and applied a gender-neutral reading of Mass. Gen. Laws c. 209C. The SJC held that a person without a biological connection to a child may be that child’s presumed parent under Mass. Gen. Laws c. 209C, § 6(a)(4). The SJC further held that Partanen adequately alleged that she is such a parent. In making its decision, the SJC reasoned that Partanen had adequately shown that the children were born to both her and Gallagher as the pregnancies were undertaken with “the full acknowledgment, participation, and consent” of Partanen and “with the shared intention that the parties would both be parents to the resulting children.” Partanen was also required to allege that she and Gallagher received the children into their home and held themselves out publically as the parents of the children, which the SJC concluded she had done. Therefore, the SJC reversed the judgment of dismissal and remanded the case to the Probate & Family Court for further proceedings.

While this decision is heralded as a major victory for same-sex couples, it is important to note that the holding of this case may be applied to heterosexual couples as well.

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