Barbara Maniaci and Michelle Kulstad were in a committed long-term relationship for approximately 10 years. During that time they built a home together and raised together two children that Maniaci adopted. In fall of 2006, the couple decided to split. At the time of their split, one of their children had been with the couple for 5 years and the other for 2. In January 2007, Kulstad filed a lawsuit to ensure that she would be able to continue to parent her children and to receive her fair share of the property she and her partner accumulated during their relationship.

During a two day trial in May 2008, a court-appointed expert testified that the children had developed a strong parental bond with Kulstad, that she was a “stabilizing influence” on the children’s lives and that it would be detrimental to the children to deny them a relationship with her. The court found that Kulstad had a parent-child relationship with each of the children, that it was in their best interest to maintain that relationship, and granted Kulstad visitation. The court also granted Kulstad an equitable share of the joint property the couple accumulated while they were together.

Status: VICTORY! The Montana Supreme Court ruled, in a 6-1 decision, that Michelle Kulstad must be treated as a full legal parent to the two children she raised with Barbara Maniaci.


Elizabeth Griffing

Pro Bono Law Firm(s)

Susan Ridgeway (Missoula), Kevin Lewis (Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Falk & Rabkin -San Francisco, CA)

Date filed

March 22, 2009


Supreme Court of Montana



Case number

DA 08-0483