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Michael Smith honored by OBA for work in groundbreaking Oklahoma Supreme Court case

November 18, 2020

Trial and appellate attorney Michael F. Smith, McAfee & Taft’s Appellate Practice Group leader, was recently honored by the Family Law Section of the Oklahoma Bar Association for his work in a landmark family law case that was decided by the Oklahoma Supreme Court last year.  The case, Schnedler v. Lee, 2019 OK 52, 445 P.3d 238, was named “Groundbreaking Family Law Case of the Year for 2019” during a virtual awards presentation at the OBA Annual Meeting on November 12, 2020.

The plaintiff in the case, Lori Schnedler, was the non-biological parent of a child from a previous same-sex relationship. After being denied the opportunity to pursue custody and visitation rights in district court and before the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals, she appealed her case to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

In June 2019, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that a non-biological parent in a same-sex relationship stands in parity with a biological parent, and that once standing requirements are met, “the court shall adjudicate any and all claims of parental rights – including custody and visitation – just as the court would for any other legal parent, consistent with the best interests of the child.”

Schnedler was successfully represented by Smith and his husband, attorney Christopher Brecht of the law firm of McDaniel Acord & Lytle, PLLC.

As the Oklahoma Supreme Court noted, Schnedler “did not act in the place of a parent; she is a parent,” and recognized that the children of same-sex parents “see them as mom or dad. The law should treat them as such.” Schnedler, 2019 OK 52, at ¶¶ 20-23, 445 P. 3d at 244. “The Schnedler opinion changed the legal landscape in Oklahoma ensuring protections for same-sex families,” Smith said. The Schnedler opinion has been cited in subsequent opinions by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, briefing by litigants, and secondary sources addressing same-sex parental rights.