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In re Marriage of Gardenour

Court of Appeals of Indiana

August 15, 2016

In re the Marriage of Kristy Gardenour, Appellant-Petitioner,
v.
Denise Bondelie, Appellee-Respondent.

         Appeal from the Hendricks Superior Court The Honorable Stephanie LeMay-Luken, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 32D05-1503-DR-151

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Jaimie L. Cairns Cairns & Rabiola, LLP Indianapolis, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Sean C. Lemieux Lemieux Law Indianapolis, Indiana Vanessa Lopez Aguilera Lopez Law Office, PC Indianapolis, Indiana

          Robb, Judge.

         Case Summary and Issue

         [1] In 2006, Kristy Gardenour and Denise Bondelie entered into a formal registered domestic partnership ("RDP") in accordance with California law. In California, registered domestic partners share the same rights granted to and obligations imposed upon spouses. After moving to Indiana, Kristy and Denise agreed to co-parent a child. In 2012, Kristy was artificially inseminated, and the following year, gave birth to a son, C.G. In early 2015, Kristy filed a petition seeking to terminate the RDP. The trial court terminated the couple's RDP, awarded Denise joint legal custody of C.G. and parenting time and ordered her to pay child support. Kristy now appeals, raising multiple issues, which we consolidate and restate as: (1) whether the trial court erred in concluding Kristy and Denise intended and agreed to become registered domestic partners with equal rights as married couples and further erred in determining the couple's RDP agreement established a spousal relationship, (2) whether the trial court erred in concluding Denise is C.G.'s legal parent, and (3) whether the trial court abused its discretion in awarding Denise joint legal custody and parenting time and ordering her to pay child support. We conclude Kristy and Denise intended to enter into a RDP agreement in accordance with California law. Pursuant to California law, Kristy's and Denise's RDP established a relationship virtually identical to marriage, and under the principle of comity, we recognize their relationship as a spousal relationship. We further conclude Denise is C.G.'s legal parent under Indiana law, and the trial court did not err in awarding Denise joint legal custody and parenting time and ordering her to pay child support. We affirm.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [2] In 2003, Kristy moved from Michigan to California to begin a relationship with Denise. In accordance with California law, the couple entered into a RDP agreement in 2006. Thereafter, Denise and Kristy moved to Indiana. In 2012, the couple agreed to co-parent a child and Kristy was artificially inseminated. On May 14, 2013, Kristy gave birth to a son, C.G. After their relationship ended in October 2014, Denise returned to California. On March 2, 2015, Kristy filed a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.

         [3] On October 8, 2015, the parties entered into a Partial Mediated Agreed Entry settling their property disputes, leaving only the issue of child custody before the trial court. On December 15, 2015, the trial court held a final hearing. During the hearing, Denise requested joint legal custody and parenting time, including regular video contact with C.G. and parenting time when she visited Indiana; Kristy requested primary physical and legal custody. The trial court issued the following Findings of Fact, Conclusions Thereon & Decree of Termination of Domestic Partnership, recognizing the couple's RDP agreement established a spousal relationship, terminating the RDP, awarding Kristy primary physical custody of C.G., awarding Denise joint legal custody and parenting time, and ordering Denise to pay child support:

         Findings of Fact

* * *
5. On March 6, 2006, Kristy and Denise freely and voluntarily entered into a Declaration of Domestic Partnership.
6. Kristy and Denise filed their Declaration of Domestic Partnership with the California Secretary of State, and on March
13.2006, they were issued a Certificate of Registration of Domestic Partnership uniting them in [a] domestic partnership in accordance with the California Family Code.
* * *
8. In entering into their Declaration of Domestic Partnership Kristy and Denise understood that they were agreeing to, and intended to be bound by, the various rights, protections, obligations and responsibilities provided by the California laws governing domestic partnerships.
9. Kristy and Denise are not married.
10. However, both Kristy and Denise understood and intended that by entering into their Declaration of Domestic Partnership they would be treated the same as spouses with regard to their relationship even though they were not legally married.
* * *
14. In 2012 Kristy and Denise began discussing having a child by artificial insemination using a sperm donor.
15. Both agreed to have a child and Kristy was to be the birth parent.
16. Initially they explored donors through various sperm banks. Their goal was to find a donor who looked like Denise so that the child would have the physical traits of both Kristy and Denise.
17. The parties eventually abandoned the idea of using a sperm bank for several reasons including the excessive cost.
18. Kristy discussed their plans with a friend at work who volunteered to donate his sperm.
19. Both Kristy and Denise agreed together to use this friend as the sperm donor.
20. Kristy found a sperm donor agreement online and asked Denise to review it. Denise is an attorney though she has not practiced law since 2006.
21. Kristy and Denise together met with the friend/donor at a restaurant to review the proposed sperm donor agreement. The agreement was acceptable to the friend and subsequent to that meeting Kristy and the friend signed the donor agreement before a Notary at a bank.
22. For approximately five (5) months the friend/donor would come to Kristy and Denise's home once or twice each month and provide a sperm donation for Kristy's insemination.
23. Denise was present for the inseminations.
24. Kristy became pregnant as a result of the artificial inseminations.
25. After Kristy became pregnant she and Denise together began planning for the child's future.
26. Denise attended OB/GYN appointments and ultrasounds with Kristy during the pregnancy.
27. Kristy and Denise attended parenting classes together during the pregnancy.
28. During the pregnancy Kristy and Denise planned for the baby to carry Denise's last name.
29. Kristy discussed the matter with Denise's father, Bruce Bondelie, and sought his support for the baby to carry the Bondelie name.
* * *
31. Denise was present when [C.G.] was born.
32. At [C.G]'s birth Kristy attempted to give him Denise's last name but was not allowed by the hospital to use ...

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