In re Guardianship of Sharon Kowalski
Landmark case seeking guardianship of a recently disabled woman for her same-sex partner
Sharon Kowalski and Karen Thompson were together for four years when a car accident dramatically altered their lives. Kowalski and her niece were struck by a drunk driver — Kowalski was left paralyzed, her niece killed. Kowalski’s parents, who learned of their daughter’s relationship with Thompson only after the accident, refused to acknowledge Thompson as an important figure in her life. Kowalski’s father assumed guardianship of his 27 year-old daughter, despite her requests to be placed in Thompson’s care. Kowalswki’s father then moved her to a nursing home 200 miles away from Thompson, who was denied visitation rights. Thompson began the lengthy legal battle to bring her partner home. Lambda Legal filed a friend-of-the-court brief on her behalf. Finally, in 1991, eight years after the accident, Kowalski returned home with Thompson.
Thompson’s eight-year battle to bring her life partner home was the first known case of its kind for LGBT people and people with HIV, although many similar tragedies occurred and were never reported.
Lambda Legal’s Impact
This high-profile case demonstrates that the committed relationships of same-sex couples are painfully vulnerable because of the lack of the recognition available for these committed relationships. It also highlights the importance of drawing up the proper legal documents that can protect LGBT and people with HIV when tragedy strikes.
- April 1991: Lower court denies Thompson’s petition for guardianship of life partner Kowalski, contrary to uncontradicted expert testimony that Thompson is best suited to be her guardian.
- December 1991: Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed their decision, granting guardianship to Thompson