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New York case could set precedent for gay parents' custody rights

While lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have made great strides in gaining legal rights, child custody can still be a problematic issue for gay parents. In many gay families, even though both partners or spouses are parenting a child together, only the person who's the biological parent is actually recognized as a parent under the law. That can leave the other parent with no custody or visitation rights should the couple break up or even if the biological parent dies.

A number of custody battles have ensued over whether or not a non-biological parent has any custody rights. Sometimes, even when the non-biological parent has legally adopted the child, his or her parentage has been challenged in court after the relationship ended. One case currently before the New York Court of Appeals could set an important precedent in custody rights for non-biological gay parents and how "parent" is defined under the law.

The New York case involves a lesbian couple. One woman was artificially inseminated and gave birth to a child. The woman's former girlfriend is now fighting for visitation rights to the child. She says that she was the child's "Mamma B" even though she never became the child's adoptive parent. The biological mother has refused to let her ex see the child, claiming that she doesn't believe that the child is safe with her.

Like all LGBT legal issues, matters of parental rights and child custody can be divisive. Those in favor of granting parental rights to non-biological parents point to cases where heterosexual men have been compelled to pay child support for kids to whom they have no biological or adoptive ties. Those against broadening the legal definition of "parent" beyond these ties argue that abusive partners, nannies and others could gain custody rights.

Laws around custody for gay parents are confusing, contradictory and ever-changing. However, an experienced New York family law attorney can provide important guidance to those seeking custody or visitation rights.

Source: Gay Star News, "Spate of gay custody battles force law to define what a parent is: could this mean more rights for gay parents?," Laura Chubb, June 05, 2016

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