HENRICO, VA (WWBT) - If you're a single parent....this is a story you've got to hear. If you invite a boyfriend or girlfriend to move into your home, and that person develops a relationship with your kids, they could be in your child's life forever, whether you like it or not. It's fact that Dr. Kelly Decker of Henrico County is learning the hard way.
For the purposes of this story we'll call her "Mary". She is an adorable, bright, seemingly, well-adjusted 5-year-old girl with no real understanding that her entire world is about to be turned upside down. Her mom is near financial ruin and about to lose her home, the reason? $132,000 in legal fees fighting her former live-in, female lover from gaining visitation with her child.
"This is criminal what is happening to us -- this is so wrong. Every parent should be furious that this is happening," said Dr. Kelly Decker.
Dr. Kelly Decker is the biological mother. The biological father is an anonymous sperm donor. Kelly was artificially inseminated.
Hers is the only name listed on the birth certificate. In these stacks of papers, there's no proof of a marriage ceremony, civil union, or adoption giving this "other" woman parental rights. Kelly terminated the relationship over 3 years ago, and insists - that to her 5-year-old -- her "ex" is a virtual stranger.
"When you ask my daughter who's her family, it's Kitty-Sparkles, Nanna and Pop-Pop, and her mommy. This other person doesn't even fit into her world," said Kelly.
And at first blush, it would appear Kelly is in the right.
"Whenever there's a dispute between a parent and a non-parent over custody or visitation, the presumption under Virginia law is, that the child, their interests are best served with the parent," said attorney Steven Benjamin.
But there's a catch.
The law also reads: "In any case involving the custody or visitation of a child, the court may award custody to any party with a legitimate interest. The term "legitimate interest" shall be broadly construed to accommodate the best interest of the child." That caveat opens the door, to people like Kelly's "ex."
"There was a reason why I terminated the relationship with her 3 years ago. There were very good reasons. If I felt she was a suitable role model and a person I wanted in my life or around my child -- she'd still be here," Kelly said.
Attorney Steve Benjamin says this case should be a wake-up call for any single parent who allows a lover to move in.
"When you have a child and you let another person into your life, you're also letting them into your child's life. And by doing that, there may be circumstances that give that person, even though they're not a parent, a "legitimate interest" into seeking custody or visitation," Benjamin said.
After battling for more than a year in court the judge has yet to rule. And Kelly can't afford anymore legal bills. It's a nightmare for her entire family and one she doesn't see ending anytime soon.
"We cry everyday. We're very fearful for my daughters future and her life," she said.
We asked Carol Breit, the Richmond Attorney representing Kelly's ex for an interview, she declined.
And even though the judge has yet to rule on visitation -- tomorrow, Kelly's daughter will be forced to meet with a court appointed counselor and Kelly's "ex" to begin the possible re-unification process.