Can There Be Transparency In Taking Children Away From Your Former Partner?
Posted on March 24, 2016
Transparency is one of those lovely ‘it’ words that’s getting thrown around quite a bit these days. Have you noticed? It certainly has in Michigan. Politicians here promise transparency, then find ways around it. And, let’s be honest, not just here either. I’m a member of a community where other folks are actively trying to find ways to legally discriminate against us. Their methods are not particularly transparent, but they’re hoping if they use the word often enough, people will think they are. Yet if there’s one thing that generally pisses me off, it’s when a member of the LGBT community uses a law out there against one of our own, a law we’re actually fighting against.
Back to Michigan.
I live in a state that recognizes someone as a parent only if 1) they have a biological connection to the child, or 2) they who have adopted. So you can imagine the potential problems one might encounter—and this problem would extend to some heterosexual couples—when a same-sex couple raise children together, and then break up.
Jennifer Zunk’s story recently made the Detroit Free Press regarding her custody battle. She and her partner of fifteen years, Carin Hopps, split up a year ago before same-sex marriage was legal in Michigan. They had two children, a daughter who Hopps is biologically related to, and a son, who was conceived through a donor egg and sperm donor. Hopps delivered both children, but both women raised them since birth.
After the women broke up, they drafted a visitation schedule and agreed to a 50/50 sharing of the children. Then, out of the blue, Hopps served Zunk with papers last January seeking to terminate the guardianship license, leaving Zunk with no parental rights at all. The reason for this move? It’s not transparently clear, but the Free Press notes that in court documents, Hopps’s attorney states Zunk provided health insurance and educational benefits for the children when guardianship was granted, and since Hopps can provide those now, Zunk’s guardianship is no longer needed.
That’s nice. Because that’s apparently what parenting all comes down to, the ability to provide health insurance and educational benefits. If you can do that on your own, why do you need a partner?
And here’s a doozy for you. It made local news in January that Susan Erspamer is seeking summary judgement against her former partner, Robbin Sawyer, using the equitable parent judgement since Sawyer isn’t biologically related to the son or daughter Erspamer delivered during their 16 year relationship. This is the same law we are trying to change because of how it negatively impacts same-sex relationships. The kicker? Oh, you’re going to love this! Susan Erspamer was appointed as Executive Director of Affirmations. What’s Affirmations? A phenomenal non-profit center that serves folks of all gender identities and sexual orientations. I love Affirmations, only I’m not so thrilled with her.
The story in Between The Lines newspaper didn’t set well with Erspamer, so she released a statement “…in order to further understanding from my perspective and offer transparency.” There’s that word again. I don’t think it means what people think it does.
In her statement, Erspamer tells us she’s a private person, what a wonderful community she’s a part of, the pain of growing up “in the closet,” and that the decision to use an unfair law in her favor was based on the legal advice of counsel and in the best interest of the children. Where have we heard this before? Oh, right. From the anti-gay crowd. This is an educated professional we’re talking about, not someone fresh out of high school with no real world knowledge. But, hold on, because this goes from kneecap-deep to waist-deep in no time. After the story broke and folks in the community looked at her and asked “Really?”, she was consumed with personal reflection and, along with new counsel, altered her position.
She wanted to put it clearly and with transparency. If you read her statement, the link is here, you can make up your mind if she accomplished this. My opinion is it’s bullshit. She got caught. She got caught trying to oust her former partner out of their children’s lives with a discriminatory tactic that places like Affirmations would like to see gone. It would have been far more transparent if Erspamer had stated “We broke up, I couldn’t stand her, I got pissed, and decided to I was going to get back at her the only way I still could, through the children.” That would have been honest. That would have been transparent.
Instead, she goes on to ask for privacy and understanding. Yes, I can understand that Susan Erspamer would want privacy. I wouldn’t want someone looking at me too closely after what I’d done either. And then she goes on even longer to say things non-related to being transparent about much of anything. It goes back to the saying “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.”
I don’t know any of these people. And, yes, I know there’s more to the story than this. Or maybe there isn’t. But if you look at the actions of some of the folks involved, I think the transparency speaks for itself and it’s certainly not what any of them are offering.
Kristoffer Gair (who formerly wrote under the pseudonym Kage Alan) is the Detroit-based author of Honor Unbound, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To My Sexual Orientation, Andy Stevenson Vs. The Lord Of The Loins, Gaylias: Operation Thunderspell, several short stories featured in anthologies (to be combined in a forthcoming book), the recently re-published novella Falling Awake, its sequel, Falling Awake II: Revenant and Falling Awake III: Requiem.
3 Responses to “Can There Be Transparency In Taking Children Away From Your Former Partner?”
Eddie Lam says:
March 24, 2016 at 7:41 am
For Zunk’s case, I feel bad for the children. They all have emotion and I am pretty sure they don’t want to see their mother break up. Sadly, like the Detroit Free Press said, if they are living in California. Zunks has parents right already.
Transparency? I don’t believe in it anymore. Nothing is transparent in America. Bull shit? Everywhere. Everyone will say whatever to protect themselves. But just don’t say it is transparent. At the end of the day, truth never come out.
Patricia Logan says:
March 24, 2016 at 10:09 am
It’s really the children who suffer here. If judges would apply the same standards to same sex parents that they do to hetero couples, things should be as fair as they can be but we both know there are homophobic judges everywhere. It’s all terribly sad for the babies.
March 24, 2016 at 10:19 am
Fortunately, in these cases, the judges aren’t necessarily being homophobic. In fact, for the first case, the judge told the couple that if they truly had the best interest of the children at heart, they’ll work something out. He then sent them to mediation.