KALAMAZOO COUNTY, MI – The non-biological mother from a lesbian relationship is fighting in court for custody of a child born to the couple’s other wife. And the case has made its way to the Michigan Supreme Court.
Rachel Haas and Carrie Pueblo had an engagement ceremony in 2007 — the closest thing to their marriage at the time. They then underwent in vitro fertilization and Haas gave birth to a son in November 2008.
The boy is now 14 years old. Pueblo did not adopt him and has no biological connection.
The couple separated before gay marriage was legalized in 2015. In 2017, Haas did not allow Pueblo any further contact with the child, Pueblo said.
Pueblo filed a lawsuit in Kalamazoo County Circuit Court in 2020, asking for joint custody as it would be best for the child. Haas argued that there was no legal title to custody for Pueblo.
The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Haas, saying Pueblo has no legal right to custody. Pueblo appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court, where judges will hear oral arguments from attorneys on Tuesday, April 4.
Haas began limiting Pueblo’s contact with the child after a stroke before stopping him entirely, Pueblo’s attorney Reh Starks said. The limited contact means Pueblo doesn’t know much about his condition, but they do know he needs additional medical attention.
By the time a child turns 18, they can usually choose who they want to interact with. But it’s unclear if he’ll be able to, or if his stroke means he’ll be in guardianship, Starks said.
“I’d like to think I’m doing the right thing out here,” Starks said. “People are people and they all deserve the same rights. And so for me, honestly, it just goes back to Carrie. Carrie is a friend of mine and I really want her to see her son again.”
According to both attorneys, this is the first time such a case has reached the Michigan Supreme Court. There is also no jurisprudence from the Court on such a question, meaning the decision could set a precedent.
That depends on the intent and intentions of Pueblo and Haas at the time, Starks said. They wanted to start a family — with a child who shared characteristics of both women, Starks said — and be parents forever.
“That’s what they intended and that’s the way it should be,” Starks said. “This is how this child was conceived. This is how this child was originally raised.
“The non-existence of this romantic relationship is not enough, in my opinion, to get rid of this original intention.”
Haas’ attorney, George Perrett, said their interpretation of the applicable law was that Pueblo had no legal right to the child.
“She based her position on what we believe to be the existing rule of law,” Perrett said. “We firmly believe in our position.”
A biological parent is not defined in Michigan’s Child Custody Act, but the Court of Appeals previously defined a parent as someone who is related by blood to a child, rather than as an adoption. But the court has expanded the definition of a parent to include someone linked “by birth” to the child, regardless of the genetic link.
Pueblo said she has custody because she and Haas were “equally married” when the child was born, meaning she was the child’s “biological father.” That means she should be granted custody under the Just Parents doctrine, Starks said in court filings.
The doctrine of just parenting means a husband can be considered the father of a child even if he is not biologically related to a child born or conceived during the marriage, the Court of Appeals said in commenting on the case.
But the person can only be a biological parent if they were married to the child’s biological mother at the time of conception or birth, the appeals court said, and Haas and Pueblo were never legally married. Some additional requirements must be met, including recognition of the relationship by the husband and child and the cooperation of the mother in shaping the father-child relationship before the divorce.
Haas and Pueblo were never married, and the commitment ceremony does not count as a marriage, the appeals court’s opinion said. If they had married in another jurisdiction, the court said its opinion might have been different.
The court cannot convert a previous relationship into a marriage because of a custody issue, the court ruled in another case.
“In other words, it is unreasonable, in our view, for a court to impose marriage on a same-sex unmarried couple several years later simply because one party so desires,” the court said, citing a previous case.
If the Michigan Supreme Court sides with Pueblo and allows her to reconnect with the boy, it would set a precedent for others in a similar situation. The impact that this could have is difficult to put into words, Starks said.
“It would be amazing to reconnect these families and these children with lost loved ones,” Starks said.
Several organizations filed briefs in support of Pueblo, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, the National Association of Social Workers, the Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, and the Family Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan.
The case is scheduled for an oral hearing on Tuesday, April 4 at 2:25 p.m. The Michigan Supreme Court is livestreaming the arguments online here. The court also has a YouTube page.
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