Gender advantage fades in same-sex custody cases

You don't have to go too far back in history to return to the days when arguments over legal custody of children involved two individuals, a man and a woman. New York child custody guidelines have been expanded and revised to accommodate changes in the definitions of marriage and parents in the wake of surrogate mothers and legal same-sex relationships.

Parenthood now can be achieved in a variety of ways. Advancements in fertility research allow one or both prospective parents to donate eggs or sperm. A surrogate mother may agree to carry a child with whom she may or may not have a biological link. Non-biological parents in same-sex relationships can adopt their partners' children.

Mothers have been favored in traditional heterosexual child custody disputes. Over time, family law courts have replaced gender preferences with new standards based upon the best interests of a child. Gender is entirely irrelevant in custody cases involving same-sex couples.

Judges making determinations in often complicated same-sex custody cases have been forced to consider factors other than a parent's genetic input. Legal observers say birth mothers no longer have an edge over adoptive parents. Courts are more interested in a parent's child-rearing abilities and the positive involvement parents have in a child's life.

Any custody case can be complicated, but the disputes get even more tangled when cases involve signed or unsigned agreements, non-adoptive parents and anonymous or unauthorized sperm donors. Only two people can be the parent of one child. But, in some present-day cases, three or even more people are vying for the honor.

Generally, a person can be a biological, adoptive or presumed parent – the presumption that a child born during marriage is the child of married parents. A family law attorney can help individuals and couples understand how courts are responding to new elements in child custody disputes, like the impact of "psychological parents."

Source: New York Post, "New York’s craziest custody case: Four parents, one child," Kathianne Boniello, Aug. 30, 2015

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