Powers v. Lippens
Case in which a Florida trial court entered an injunction prohibiting a non-biological mom, now separated from her former same-sex spouse, from seeing or contacting the couple’s daughter.
Debbie Lippens and Cheryl Powers were a committed same-sex couple from 1997-2007. They traveled from Florida to Vermont in 2002 and entered a civil union, and to Massachusetts in 2004 to get married. In 2002, after their civil union, they had a child in Florida. The child considers both women her parents, calling Debbie “Momma” and Cheryl “Mommy.” In 2007, before adoption was available in Florida (the law banning gay people from adopting was overturned in 2010), the couple broke up. Because Florida does not recognize the parental rights of non-biological parents, Debbie continued to co-parent and visit their daughter without a court order until Sept. 3, 2014, when Cheryl abruptly cut off contact. Over the next month, Debbie sent her daughter two text messages telling her she missed her and wanted to see her. In October 2014, Cheryl filed a Petition for An Injunction Against Stalking on behalf of their daughter. The judge concluded that because Debbie was a legal stranger to her child in Florida, her contact with the minor could be considered “stalking” and granted the injunction on November 03, 2014, barring Debbie from contacting her daughter under threat of criminal sanctions.
Lambda Legal appealed the ruling, filing a brief on Debbie’s behalf in April, 2015. We argued that because Debbie is a parent under Vermont and Massachusetts law, she is a parent in Florida, and that even if the court did not find she was a legal parent, she nonetheless has an existing, constitutionally protected, parent-child relationship with the 12 year-old child she has raised since birth.
In October 2015, the Fifth District Court of Appeals agreed, ruling that “the only two incidents that Daughter may have been aware of were the two text messages. Both messages served legitimate purposes, given the familial relationship between Lippens and Daughter. Furthermore, neither text message could be considered threatening.”
- November 2014 Lippens issued stalking injunction, barring contact with her child.
- April 2015 Lambda Legal files brief on behalf of Debbie Lippens
- October 2015 Appellate court reversed the lower court ruling, and dissolved the injunction.