Alison D. v. Virginia M., 77 N.Y.2d 651 (1991)

CASE: Woman sues ex-Lesbian companion for visitation rights to the child they agreed to raise together.

FACTS: Lesbian couple agrees to have child together. Virginia M. agreed to be artificially inseminated, but Alison D. would be the baby's mother as well (they would jointly decide what was in the best interests of the child, share in the expenses of raising the child, etc.). The child called both parents "mommy." Eventually, the two women terminated their relationship, and Alison moved out of the house. Virginia bought out her share of the mortgage in the house they owned together and terminated prearranged visitation schedules. Alison moved to Ireland to pursue career advancement, but was cut off from all contact with the child (gifts and letters returned, etc.). Alison sued to seek visitation rights (writ of habeas corpus) pursuant to the Domestic Relations Law § 70; Supreme Court dismissed because she is a biological stranger to the child and therefore not a parent under the Domestic Relations Law. Appellate Division affirmed; Alison appealed.

QUESTION: Can a biological stranger to a child who nonetheless has a strong emotional bond with the child bring a writ of habeas corpus in an attempt to win rights to visitation of the child absent a showing that the child's biological mother is unfit?

ALISON D. ARGUES: She is not the biological nor the legal mother of the child, but that she acted as a "de factor" parent or that she should be viewed as a parent "by estoppel."

COURT SAYS: Affirms the lower court ruling, (finding for Virginia M.).

HOLDING: A biological stranger to a child who exercised soem control of the child with his biological mother's consent cannot bring a writ of habeas corpus in an attempt to win rights to visitation of the child absent a showing that the child's biological mother is unfit.


  • It has long been recognized that, as between a parent and a third person, parental custody of a child may not be displaced absent grievous cause or necessity."
  • To allow the courts to award visition$#151;a limited form of custody—to a third person would necessarily impair the parent's right to custody and control.
  • Under § 70, only the biological mother or the biological father of a child may apply to the supreme court for a writ of habeas corpus to hyave a minor child brought before the court.
  • The court declines the invitation in this case to expand the class of parents, which has been defined by the legislature, to include categories of nonparents who have developed a relationship with a child or who have had prior relationships with a child's parents and who wish to continue visitation with the child.

DISSENT: This decision will have far-reaching impacts on the millions of children in relationships such as this, and have detrimental effects on these children in that they will no longer be able to maintain bonds with parents that they need for healthy development. The court's proper role is to take into account the child's best interest.