Constitutional Law - Constitutional Rights of Parents Do Not Require Showing of Unfitness in Third Party Cases

By Gelzinis, Peter P. | Suffolk University Law Review, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

Constitutional Law - Constitutional Rights of Parents Do Not Require Showing of Unfitness in Third Party Cases


Gelzinis, Peter P., Suffolk University Law Review


Constitutional Law--Constitutional Rights of Parents Do Not Require Showing of Unfitness in Third Party Cases--Kulstad v. Maniaci, 220 P.3d 595 (Mont. 2009).

The United States Constitution and the Montana Constitution protect a natural parent's fundamental right to parent his or her children. (1) Courts have, however, differed in defining the extent of that right and the protection it affords the natural parent in relation to a third party seeking to establish contact with a child. (2) In Kulstad v. Maniaci, (3) the Montana Supreme Court considered whether the constitutional rights of a natural parent required a showing that the natural parent was unfit as a prerequisite to awarding a third party a parental interest. (4) In upholding the constitutionality of sections 40-4-211 and 40-4-228 of the Montana Code, the court held that the absence of a requirement that a court first determine the fitness of the parent before granting a parental interest to a third party does not violate a natural parent's fundamental rights. (5)

Michelle Kulstad and Barbara Maniaci began a relationship in 1995, eventually moving in together in Montana and exchanging rings with each other. (6) As their relationship progressed, they discussed the possibility of parenting a child together. (7) They met with a lawyer who advised them that only one of them could legally adopt a child under Montana law. (8) When they got the opportunity to adopt a child, they agreed Maniaci would be the adoptive parent, but both would act equally as parents in raising the child. (9) Later, Maniaci pursued a second adoption despite objections from Kulstad. (10) Although Kulstad disagreed with the second adoption, she nevertheless acted as a parent to both children, providing physical and emotional support on a daily basis until she and Maniaci ended their relationship in 2006.11

In January 2007, Kulstad sought an order from the district court granting her a parental interest. (12) After an initial hearing to determine whether Kulstad had a parental interest, the court concluded that pursuant to sections 40-4-211(4)(b) and (6) of the Montana Code, Kulstad established by clear and convincing evidence that she had formed a parent-child relationship with both minor children. (13) The court established an interim parenting plan, and found section 40-4-228 of the Montana Code would apply to the final decision that would be made at a later date regarding the parenting arrangement between Kulstad and Maniaci. (14) A bench trial was held in May 2008 to determine whether Kulstad should be awarded a permanent parental interest in the children. (15) After hearing testimony from several medical professionals, the court found both children had attachment disorders, both recognized Kulstad as their parent and, therefore, it would be in the children's best interest to award Kulstad a parental interest. (16) On appeal, the Montana Supreme Court held by a six to one majority that the district court did not violate Maniaci's constitutional rights as a natural parent by not first establishing that Maniaci was unfit before awarding Kulstad a parental interest. (17)

The Montana Supreme Court has long held that the "careful protection of parental rights is not merely a matter of legislative grace, but is constitutionally required." (18) The court has interpreted this constitutional protection to require a showing of parental abuse or neglect before a court can consider granting visitation or transferring custody to a third party. (19) In upholding this standard, the court has expressed the need to carefully guard against the state's ability to interfere with the parent-child relationship. (20) In a pair of decisions, the court rejected as unconstitutional two different statutory schemes permitting a lower court to award custody to a third party over a fit parent based on the best interest of the child. (21) The court voiced its distaste for making custody decisions based solely on the subjective best interest standard in third party cases, because the court would be invited to inquire into whether a child's best interest means that he or she should be raised by a wealthy or intelligent family as opposed to a natural parent. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Constitutional Law - Constitutional Rights of Parents Do Not Require Showing of Unfitness in Third Party Cases
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.