Groundbreaking Decision by The Montana Supreme CourtMarybeth Sampsel
Michelle Kulstad and Barbara Maniaci adopted two children during their 10 year committed relationship. Because Montana adoption law does not allow a homosexual couple to adopt a child, Ms. Maniaci legally adopted the children as a single person, but the couple jointly raised the children during their relationship. In 2006, the couple decided to separate and in January 2007, Ms. Kulstad filed a lawsuit to ensure she would be able to continue parenting her children and to receive her share of the property the couple accumulated during the time they were together.
A two day trial took place in May 2008 and a court-appointed expert testified strongly in Ms. Kulstad’s favor, indicating the children had formed a strong bond with Ms. Kulstad and that denying her time with them would be detrimental. The trial court found that Ms. Kulstad had a parent-child relationship and that it was in their best interest to maintain that relationship. Thus, the court granted Ms. Kulstad visitation rights to the children.
Ms. Maniaci appealed the decision to the Montana Supreme Court and oral arguments were heard on behalf of both Ms. Maniaci and Ms. Kulstad. The Montana Supreme Court upheld the decision of the trial court 6 – 1 and upheld the Montana law that recognizes parent-child relationships that arise outside of biology and adoption when certain criteria are met.
Though this case happened to involve a lesbian couple, such a decision could affect many heterosexual couples in Montana. For example, a person who has acted as a parent to a girlfriend/boyfriend’s child may have continuing rights to act as a parent to the child even after the relationship has ended.