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Same-sex relationships challenge legal definitions of parent

In Pennsylvania, same-sex couples that end their relationships could face significant legal hurdles when child custody disputes emerge. Courts in other states have been split on the subject of parental rights for nonbiological partners in same-sex couple families.

One case in Kentucky is heading to that state's highest court after conflicting decisions in lower courts. The female ex-partner of a woman who gave birth to a child in 2006 is trying to block the adoption of the child by the woman's new husband. During the same-sex relationship, the plaintiff lived in the household with the mother and child, where she performed parenting duties. Additionally, school, child care and medical records named her as a parent.

Attorneys for the biological mother noted in their court filings that state laws might eventually be updated to accommodate complex parental situations, but, until then, they requested that the court rule according to existing laws. Definitions of parent vary by state, and the historic decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that recognized the right of gays and lesbians to legally marry did not address family law that guides child custody.

A person contemplating the dissolution of a same-sex marriage might need legal advice during the divorce process. An attorney who has experience with these matters can often provide a legal perspective that is sensitive to the challenges experienced by gay and lesbian families. Legal counsel could help the person document assets to prepare for the division of property necessary in a divorce. Additionally, if children are involved, the attorney could help determine how to assert parental rights concerning custody or visitation.

Source: ABC News, "Same-Sex Adoption Case Challenge What It Means to Be Parent", Adam Beam, Dec. 7, 2015

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