Friday, September 5, 2014

Dubose v. North: A Case for "Maternal" Rights

In Dubose v. North, the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals confirmed a trial court’s order dismissing an application of an order concerning support, custody and visitation of a minor child. 2014 OK CIV APP 68.

Dubose and North, once a same-sex couple, began living together in 2001. North became pregnant through artificial insemination and gave birth in October of 2007. Dubose and North co-parented the child from October 2007 through December 2012.  At some point in December 2012, the couple separated.

After the separation, North stopped all contact between Dubrose and the child.  Dubose filed an Application for Temporary Order for Support, Custody and Visitation. At the district court level, the trial court dismissed her application based on a lack of standing.

In order to commence legal action, a party must have “standing”. The heart of this requirement demands that the party bringing the suit has or will suffer an injury and the harm is capable of being remedied by the court. 

In this case, North argued that Dubose lacked standing because, under the Uniform Parentage Act, Dubose could not bring a proceeding to address parentage. 

Importantly, the Uniform Parentage Act narrowly defines who can bring a suit of this kind. A proceeding of this kind may be brought by “(1) the child, (2) the mother of the child, (3) a man whose paternity of the child is to be adjudicated, (4) the Department of Human Services, or (5) a representative authorized by law to act for an individual who would otherwise be entitled to maintain a proceeding but who is deceased, incapacitated, or a minor.” See 10 O.S. 2011, § 7700-602.

Because Dubrose is a woman who is not considered “the mother” of the child under this Act, the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the trial court’s determination that Dubrose lacked standing to sue.

Although Dubrose argued that the statute should be read with a gender neutral interpretation, the argument failed.  In law, “words used in any statute are to be understood in their ordinary sense.” 25 O.S. 2011, § 1.  Because “man” clearly does not mean “woman”, Dubrose cannot qualify as a person seeking “paternity”.  Thus, maternity rights are simply nonexistent.  Additionally, because Dubrose did not carry the child, she is not considered “the mother” under the statute.

This situation is simply heartbreaking. Dubrose co-parented the child for 5-6 years, and now has no legal rights to gain visitation. In a world where “grandparent visitation” is a thing, it shocks me that a woman who has played an active role in this child’s life is unable to even gain an order granting her visitation rights based on a law that lacks gender neutrality.

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