A New York judge granted custody to each of the three once-throupled parents of a 10-year-old boy last week, further cementing the state’s reputation as a place where queer families can grow, thrive, and stay together.
Two of the parents, Dawn and Michael Marano of Long Island, got married in 1994. Around 2001, their downstairs neighbor, Andrea Garcia, joined their relationship and soon moved in. Dawn Marano was infertile, so when the three decided to have a kid together, Michael Marano and Garcia stepped up to be the biological parents. After a year and a half of parenting the boy together, Dawn Marano and Garcia left Michael to be a twosome; Dawn sued Michael for divorce in 2011. Garcia and Michael have since shared custody, but the boy lives with Garcia and Dawn, who are no longer romantically involved.
Dawn chose to file a petition for joint custody of the child because her existing relationship with her son was dependent on the goodwill and whims of Garcia and Michael. If they both decided to cut her out of her child’s life, she’d have no legal recourse or right to see the boy. Garcia supported Dawn’s request for some official custody arrangement, but Michael opposed it, so it went to trial.
On Wednesday, Suffolk County Supreme Court Judge H. Patrick Leis granted Dawn the right to visit with her son on Wednesday nights, and have custody for one week of school vacation and two weeks of summer. In part through interviews with the boy, Leis determined that all three adults were in fact parents to the child—they had shown him love and been involved in his upbringing, and it was in his best interest to continue his relationships with all three of them. The New York Post reports that the boy said he knew one of his mothers as “mommy with the orange truck” and the other as “mommy with the gray truck,” an adorable set of names more moms with trucks should adopt.
This kind of “tri-custody” setup is unusual in court-ordered arrangements, but Leis framed it as a valid application of equal-marriage rights and a 2016 case that expanded the rights of unmarried, non-biological parents to share custody of their children. In that case, Brooke S.B. v. Elizabeth C.C., the New York Court of Appeals ruled that a woman who’d raised a child since birth with her longtime partner was still a parent with custody rights, even though she had no biological relationship to the child, wasn’t married to his biological mother, and never formally adopted her son.
The victory of Dawn Marano and her child could set solid legal precedent for future custody claims of parents in queer or polyamorous families, a necessary next step in a vision of parenthood and child-rearing that extends beyond the boundaries of monogamous marriage. Funnily enough, this is the exact future predicted by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in his dissent on the 2015 equal-marriage ruling Obergefell v. Hodges. While arguing that the slippery slope of same-sex marriage could lead to the total breakdown of social norms and family structures, he cited the important legal-theory volume “Married Lesbian Throuple Expecting First Child,” a New York Post article from 2014.
“If a same-sex couple has the constitutional right to marry because their children would otherwise ‘suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser,’ why wouldn’t the same reasoning apply to a family of three or more persons raising children?” Roberts wondered. That's Roberts' dystopia: a world in which children are supported and cared for by three or more loving parents who all want to be involved in their kids’ lives.