Minnesota mom sues to redefine paternity in lesbian child support clash

When there's no legal or biological connection, how can a court command a parent in all other ways to pay child support?

When there's no legal or biological connection, how can a court command a parent in all other ways to pay child support? Mehmet Pinarci

Girl meets girl. They fall in love, start living together, and agree to have a child through artificial insemination.

Eventually, things come apart. Their child lives with the biological mother, but spends about a third of each month with the other mother, who has no genetic or legal connection to him.

Bio-mom wants her ex to pony up child support. The ex would rather not, and there's nothing in the law that can make her do it. 

This case, filed in Todd County by Sheila Asmus against Lori Hagood, poses the problem of how parenthood is defined in cases of artificial insemination, where a couple legally could not marry at the time the child was conceived.

"Mother always encouraged Partner to assume the status of 'parent' [through adoption] and has at all times agreed to Partner's forming and maintaining an attachment relationship with the Child," according to Asmus' suit, which claims Hagood did make monthly payments for about two and a half years before stopping in 2015.

Hagood's response was that Asmus made the decision to be a mother long before they lived together, and controls every aspect of her relationship with the child, to the extent that she's never been treated as a real co-parent.

Phil Duran, legal director of the state's foremost LGBT advocacy group, OutFront Minnesota, has kept an eye on the lawsuit because of its implications for other gay families, who are increasingly raising children.

There has been one other case in Minnesota, Johnson v. Soohoo, where a lesbian couple broke up and the non-biological parent fought for parenting time with their child. The state Supreme Court ruled in her favor, reasoning that because the child needed both mothers, and because non-bio-mom was a de facto parent, biology shouldn't be the only thing that established her rights.

The Asmus-Hagood case is sort of the same thing, Duran says.

"This case is like, 'OK, if the court can give non-bio, non-legal parents rights, can the court then impose obligations?"

Duran says he has no position on the case for now, but could foresee filing an amicus brief if the case progresses to a higher court. The courts tend to look at these issues from the standpoint of the child and what the child needs, he believes.

"They're less concerned with adults fighting among each other. Over time, particularly because of the circumstances same-sex couples find themselves in, courts often deal with pragmatic functions of a parent, regardless of legal or biological ties," he says. "From that perspective this doesn't necessarily open up new questions, but I don't know that they've had exactly this collection of facts before them."