At the NYT, reporter Ginia Bellafonte had a story yesterday, “When the Law Says a Parent Isn’t a Parent“:
Gay rights are moving forward; single women now account for 41 percent of all births. Americans build caring families with lovers, friends and neighbors; from one-night stands and anonymous providers of genetic material. And yet, even in a place as progressive as New York, the legal system has been slow to synchronize to these altered realities.
It is hard to imagine anyone experiencing this more viscerally right now than a man named Jonathan Sporn, a 54-year-old pharmaceuticals executive living on the Upper West Side, who in a sense has fallen prey to a system that excessively privileges the conventional family models from which there seems to be a growing exodus.
According to a custody petition Dr. Sporn filed in Manhattan Supreme Court last month, he and his girlfriend, Leann Leutner, had a baby boy — Lincoln Amory Aurelian Sporn Leutner — last July, with the help of in vitro fertilization. The couple had issues conceiving but found success with the use of an anonymous sperm donor. Dr. Sporn and Ms. Leutner, both of whom had divorced previous partners, were not married. But they had lived together since 2010 and were deeply committed to starting a family.
Then in mid-December, Ms. Leutner, a lawyer at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, left with Lincoln for New Jersey, where a few days before the end of the year she got a new apartment. On New Year’s Day, she committed suicide. Her death, according to the petition, followed previous attempts to take her own life and a long history of psychological difficulty made worse by postpartum depression. Her departure for New Jersey had been preceded by a stay at Mount Sinai for psychiatric treatment. Ms. Leutner left the hospital prematurely, the petition states, against Dr. Sporn’s judgment, assisted by a friend.
Ever since his mother’s death, the baby has been in the custody of child protective services. He is currently in foster care in New York City, even though Dr. Sporn desperately wants him returned home and Ms. Leutner’s sister, Susan Sylvester, who lives in Illinois, is also seeking custody…
What is Parenthood, an interdisciplinary volume published this month by NYU Press–that was gestated here at the Institute and brought to life by its lead editor, Boston University legal scholar Linda McClain– examines contemporary quandaries when it comes to defining parenthood.