An Ottawa court recently set a ground-breaking precedent by legally recognizing two friends as co-mothers of the biological son of one of the women. This is a legal first in Ontario.
The co-mothers are Natasha Bakht (age 44) and Lynda Collins (age 42). Both women are lawyers and professors at the University of Ottawa.
Ms. Bakht gave birth to the boy, Elaan, in February 2010, after becoming pregnant via sperm donor. She was prepared to be a single parent. Ms. Collins was present as both a birth coach and general supporter. She recalls Elaan’s birth as “one of the best days of my life” and says that she “…just kind of fell in love [with him]”.
Complications that arose during birth left Elaan with severe cognitive and mobility issues. Ms. Collins continued to be involved in the care of Elaan, helping Ms. Bakht adjust to life as a new parent and assisting with raising the boy. She eventually sold her home, and moved into the condo unit directly above Ms. Bakht’s.
As Ms. Collins became more and more involved in Elaan’s life, she began to operate as a de facto parent. The two women eventually decided that they wanted to legally formalize the relationship; however, because Ms. Bakht and Ms. Colling are friends and colleagues, rather than romantic partners, Ms. Collins could not formally adopt Elaan.
Declaration of Parentage: Legally Recognized Co-Mothers
The two mothers hired a lawyer and made submissions to the court. They were able to convince a judge that it was in Elaan’s best interest to grant Ms. Collins the same legal parental rights as Ms. Bakht. Ms. Collins was granted a declaration of parentage and Elaan’s birth certificate was updated to have both of his mothers’ names on it.
The declaration of parentage means that Ms. Collins is able to make medical and legal decisions about Elaan’s care, much like Ms. Bakht can.
As we’ve previously blogged about, the All Families Are Equal Act came into force in the province in January 2017.
Under the Act, Ontario residents who have used reproductive services such as sperm donation or surrogacy no longer have to apply to a court in order to be recognized as a parent. Up to four individuals can be recognized as the parents of a child, as long as all parties entered into a written agreement prior to the conception of the child in question.
Ms. Bakht and Ms. Collins did not have such an agreement. As a result, the new legislation would have excluded them, had they not received their court order. Going forward, potential co-parents in a similar situation as the two women may have to challenge the law.
We will continue to follow the legal evolution in Ontario parental rights and will blog about more cases and other developments as they arise. In the interim, if you have questions about your parental rights and would like to speak with an experienced Windsor family law lawyer about your rights, call 519.973.1500 or contact us online. We serve clients in Windsor, Essex County and throughout the region.