Marriage equality has gained enormous momentum since the landmark Massachusetts ruling in Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health, 798 N.E.2d 941 (Mass. 2003), with 18 states and the District of Columbia legalizing or recognizing Gay marriages since 2003.
Thats the good news. The bad news is that state have been left with no legislative guidance as to how to deal with Gay divorces and the issues associated with the dissolution of marriage. According to 2010 US Census data (PDF), there are nearly 600,000 same-sex couples living in the US, and about 25 percent of them are raising children. Adoption and surrogacy, for example, are used more and more by same-sex couples to “complete” their families. State lawmakers and the courts across the US are dealing with the special legal problems raised when gay and lesbian parents fight for parental rights like child support, custody and visitation. The states deal with these problems in different ways. For instance, New York recognizes same sex parents have the same legal obligation for child support as opposite sex marriages. Michigan does not recognize same-sex marriages and same-sex partners can’t adopt each other’s children.
Legal disputes between gay and lesbian parents can be complicated. This is mainly because the laws in many states don’t specifically address these parents’ rights and the courts are left to grapple with the problems. Some states do have special laws, however, so be sure to check the laws in your area for your parental rights and responsibilities.
In a number of states, a parent’s sexual orientation cannot in and of itself prevent a parent from being given custody of or visitation with his or her child.
As a practical matter, however, lesbian and gay parents — even in those states — may be denied custody or visitation. This is because judges, when considering the best interests of the child, may be motivated by their own or community prejudices, and may find reasons other than the lesbian or gay parent’s sexual orientation to deny custody or appropriate visitation.
If you are involved in a custody case and are concerned about bias against you because you are gay or lesbian, make sure you consult a lawyer about protecting your rights. You can get attorney referrals from the National Center for Lesbian Rights (www.nclrights.org).