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Legal News on the Lesbian Custody Front
In Jefferson County in Colorado, a courageous judge recently granted separating lesbian partners joint custody of their daughter. The biological mother will retain custody during the school year, and her former partner (called the "psychological parent" by the judge) will have custody during the school breaks. Another judge in Boulder, Colorado ruled that both partners in a lesbian relationship can be granted parental rights, even though only one partner was a biological parent. The judge allowed the non-biological mother to list her name on the child's birth certificate.
Custody issues are also at stake in the Rhode Island Supreme Court and the New Jersey Supreme Court. In Tennessee, the Court of Appeals recently rejected the petition of two non-biological moms who were seeking visitation rights with children they had co-raised with their former partners. In White v. Thompson and Coke v. Looper, 1999 WL 787517 (September 27, 1999), the Court relied on Tennessee's existing laws to conclude that these women were not legal parents, and therefore they lacked standing to seek visitation of their children.
More positive results have emerged in Connecticut, where a Superior Court recently granted visitation rights to a lesbian co-parent who was not a legal parent of the child raised by the couple. Connecticut's laws are more liberal about granting visitation to non-legal parents, and therefore the court had more freedom to grant this order.
The moral of all of these stories is a simple one: if you and your partner are raising a child jointly, make every possible effort to take the necessary steps to become joint legal parents. In California this has just become a little bit easier, as the State Department of Social Services no longer opposes same-sex adoptions on a routine basis. And if you have not been able to become joint legal parents and a dissolution is looming, make every possible effort to resolve the custody and visitation conflicts through mediation, for the sake of your children.
A Few End of the Millennium Thoughts
As we face the turning of the millennium, some attention should be given to how far we have come in the past thirty years. In nearly every state we have won to right to form relationships by contract and to enjoy the love and companionship of our chosen partner. In many states we have won the right to jointly adopt children and to share our financial and legal lives together. And, while we are still denied the right to marry, denied many of the public and private benefits afforded to married couples, and are subject to horrendous economic oppression because of the marital privileges of the tax system, many of our personal financial and legal needs can be met through private arrangements.
In order to enjoy these legal protections, however, it is essential that each of us take careful stock of what is happening in our own relationships. If there is an unfair imbalance in our financial arrangements or our parentage relationships, or if there are unspoken expectations of support or reimbursement, take the time and marshal your courage to confront these difficult issues. Try to reach compromises which honor the needs of both partners, and make a firm commitment to resolve future conflicts in a loving and caring manner. The legal system is a horribly expensive, painfully slow and emotionally wrenching method for resolving inter-personal conflicts, many of which could be avoided if careful planning and honest discussion had taken place at an earlier phase of the relationship. Make a resolution for the new millennium to handle your legal affairs through compromise and fair private arrangements.
Happy New Year and best wishes for the new millennium!
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