Same-sex couple's custody battle hampered by outdated state laws

- An estranged same-sex couple in Monroe County is locked in a custody battle over their two children.

Since the two women were never married, one fears she'll never see her kids again.

It is quite a mess and the main reason is that Michigan laws have not caught up to reproductive science and our lawmakers have failed to do anything about it.

FOX 2: "Do you feel that you have any more of a right to those children than you do?"

"No because, I've been their mom since the day they were born," said Jennifer Zunk.

Zunk and Carin Hopps spent 14 happy years together. The Monroe County couple entered a civil union and like many couples, decided to have kids who are now 8 and 6 years old.

But their relationship eventually fell apart.  Unable to marry and because they broke up before it was legal in Michigan, Zunk is in jeopardy of losing her children.

"I was shocked, I was sad, I was terrified," Zunk said. "Because now is it step No. 1 and I'm never going to see my kids again? I have no rights, she can move away with them. She can refuse to let me see them."

Zunk's ex has filed a motion in Monroe County Circuit Court to have her legal guardianship of the children terminated.

And according to her attorneys, what her ex doesn't realize, is that she may be in jeopardy of losing her own custody of at least one of her kids, as well.

The couple's first child was conceived by in vitro fertilization, biologically part Hopps', who carried the baby.

But their son isn't biologically connected to either mother, he was conceived by a donor sperm and a donor egg. Although Hopps carried the child, he is not related.

"Michigan is so behind where science is, that we are running into the situations where even though you are the birth mother, they are not biologically related to this child," said attorney Lisa Stern. "And there is no law whatsoever in Michigan that tells courts what to do in this situation, which is why the child would be a ward of the state."

The couple could lose their son, who could potentially end up in foster care.

In Michigan there is nothing on the books that addresses reproductive technology - children conceived by donor eggs and donor sperm for homosexual or heterosexual couples.

Michigan is one of four states in the nation where surrogacy is against the law and the Equitable Parent Doctorine, which grants child custody to an adult who is not the biological parent, does not extend to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community.

"We were together, we were raising a child and now we've broken up and the court's like 'That's too bad, you had to be married and only husband and wife, man and woman were able to get married in state of Michigan,'" Stern said.

The custody case heads to Monroe County Circuit Court on Friday. Attorneys Lisa Stern and Dana Nessel are asking the judge to grant a stay to keep things the way they are, with Jennifer and Carin sharing custody of the children.

If not, at least one of the children...could lose the only parents he's ever known..

"We want the judge to know it's not that simple," Stern said. "These issues are going to impact people for years to come, these are precedent issues in this case."

"I'm going to keep fighting appeals however high I can go," Zunk said. "Because if they are taken away from me, I just want to leave a paper trail that says, 'Your mother fought for you.'"

FOX 2 did contact Carin Hopps for comment but did not hear back.
 

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