Indiana also Recognizes Foreign Registered Domestic Partnerships on the Basis of Comity

Family Law Case Review

Case: In re: Kristy Gardenour v. Denise Bondelie
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD:  A foreign Registered Domestic Partnership (“RDP”) can confer upon unmarried parties, who relocate to Indiana, rights and obligations that spouses share, on the theory that the foreign RDP was a contract between the parties’ that incorporated the foreign jurisdiction’s statutory substantive rights and obligations.

HELD: Indiana also recognizes foreign RDPs on the basis of comity.

HELD: A couple with a foreign RDP who knowingly and voluntarily agrees to co-parent a child by artificial insemination will each be a “legal parent” of the child.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
In 2003, California enacted its Domestic Partner Act, which afforded an opportunity for two same-sex parties to share in all the same rights and responsibilities as marriage, but by another name. To be declared domestic partners, the parties needed to submit a “Declaration of Domestic Partnership.” The Act included various recitations that the parties would be treated the same as spouses with respect to rights and obligations of property, children, etc.  The Act also afforded the parties an opportunity to enter into a separate contract that deviated from those statutory terms; in effect, a “premarital agreement,” but for a domestic partnership.

In 2006, Kristy and Denise, while living in California, entered into an RDP. They had no separate agreement modifying their statutory rights and obligations. The parties subsequently moved to Indiana.

In 2012, Kristy was artificially inseminated and gave birth to Child the following year. In 2015, the parties separated, Denise moved back to California, and Kristy filed, in Indiana, a petition to terminate the RDP.  As a result of those proceedings, the Indiana trial court terminated the RDP, awarded the parties joint legal custody of Child, provided Denise with a parenting time arrangement, and ordered Denise to pay child support to Kristy. Kristy appealed.

Kristy appealed the trial court’s finding and conclusion of the parties’ “spousal relationship.” The trial court had done so relying upon a contractual theory: Indiana recognizes cohabitation agreements and marital agreements as valid and enforceable. Though Indiana does not have RDPs, Indiana law can view Denise and Kristy’s declaration of RDP as a contract that incorporated the substantive provisions of California law with respect to the parties’ rights and obligations to be just like spouses. The Court of Appeals agreed: “[D]espite the Declaration not detailing statutory language pertaining to the rights and obligations of domestic partners, we conclude Kristy and Denise contractually entered into a RDP – thereby incorporating default terms of California law – and agreed to be treated as spouses.”

The Court of Appeals also noted that the RDP could be honored on an alternative theory of comity. The Court further observed that, as a matter of public policy, not recognizing the terms of the RDP would allow a parent in California to flee his or her obligations as a spouse or parent by crossing state lines.

Kristy also appealed the trial court’s finding that Denise was Child’s “legal parent.” However, the Court of Appeals concluded that Denise was a legal parent of Child both under the same RDP contractual and comity analysis set forth above, but also pursuant to existing Indiana case law that can establish a legal parent relationship for anyone who “knowingly and voluntarily agreed to co-parent a child by artificial insemination,” which was the case here.

The trial court’s legal custody and parenting time order was affirmed.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: In re the Marriage of: Kristy Gardenour v. Denise Bondelie

 

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James A. Reed and Michael R. Kohlhaas of Bingham Greenebaum Doll represent clients in a wide spectrum of relationship transition and wealth planning matters, including premarital agreements, estate planning, cohabitation, separation, divorce (especially involving high net worth individuals and/or complex asset issues), custody, parenting arrangements, adoption, and domestic partnerships. Bingham Greenebaum Doll, a multidisciplinary law firm serving regional, national, and international clients, is the fourth-largest law firm in Indiana. The firm’s main practices include corporate, property, litigation, labor, government law, and personal services law. Visit the firm’s website at www.bgdlegal.com.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

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