I’m overjoyed that more and more cases like this are on the docket. If we didn’t have this, the mother bias that runs rampant through our family court system may never be exposed. Father’s rights organizations and those who have been on the front lines for years dealing with the horrific injustices seen on a daily basis already know the truth. These cases only expose the craziness that occurs there regularly.
Hopefully, it will permanently change the bias towards mothers and actually force judges to see each case on its individual merits and not use the “one size fits all” approach they have been relying on for decades.
The rise of surrogate parents, same-sex couples, and changing gender roles have complicated custody cases. This article explains that while in the past, judges generally favored women in custody cases and the awarding of child support. Very little has changed, at least until now. It’s becoming the case less often for opposite-sex couples thanks to the efforts of fathers like myself and several others, and can’t be a factor in same-sex couples going forward.
Same sex couple custody battles are not new. When you have cases like this, this, this, and this, people might finally begin to understand that marriage and having children is a lot more complicated than simply loving someone. When that love fades or dies, there are serious complications that arise. People instantly realize that marriage is NOT just about love. It is a business and legal arrangement where much of the details are already written out for you.
You might want to reconsider who you are having sex with (a.k.a. hooking up), marrying, or cohabiting with. Men, you might also think about being a little more considerate with who you allow to have access to your sperm. This is serious business. Male sperm is more valuable than you might think! See the above links for details.
For those in the #lovewins camp, or those who were lobbying for #marriageEquality, welcome to the real world:
New York’s craziest custody case: Four parents, one child
She’s seen paternity battles, struggles for alimony, vicious tugs-of-war over children, but veteran family attorney Susan Bender had never handled a custody fight quite like this.
A gay male couple donated sperm from one of the men to a lesbian couple, resulting in a baby. Each couple bought identical New York apartments and decorated them exactly the same. The intention was to split the year into four quarters and rotate the primary parenting duties amongst themselves.
The complex plan was intended “so that they could all parent the child or children in some meaningful way,” the attorney said. “They were good people and they loved this child, but within nine months the experiment collapsed.”
Bender represented one of the women.
“We walked into the courtroom, and the judge was reading the petition. I’ll never forget the look on the judge’s face,” Bender says. “She looked up and looked at the parties, and she looked at me and said: ‘Counsel, explain.’ ”
Marriage isn’t the only legal procedure getting a makeover by same-sex couples. When gay families break up, custody fights sometimes require a lot of explanation — and new precedent in the courts.
As more of these cases are resolved, it may end up changing the custody cases of straight couples as well.
In the past, judges often favored mothers in heterosexual custody cases. But that’s changed in recent decades, lawyers say, as fathers have pushed for more rights. As same-sex custody cases become more common, it may encourage judges to be even more gender-blind.
They were good people and they loved this child, but within nine months the experiment collapsed.
“It’s always been my feeling that same-sex marriage is going to revolutionize the court system,” said Long Island family lawyer Sari Friedman.
Judges “have traditional perspectives of roles. When they have two divorcing mothers in front of them, and they can’t fall back on figuring out what they feel is right based on gender, I think that they’re going to find different solutions.”
When it’s Mom v. Mom, judges “focus more on the parties and how they live their lives and how they each were involved,” she said.
Genetics don’t even necessarily tip the scale. With lesbian couples, whether one is a birth mother and the other is an adoptive mom hasn’t mattered in the cases Bender has seen. In the quadrangle case she handled, the female who actually carried the child didn’t have an advantage in court — the judge was simply interested in who would be the best primary caretaker now.
“It has been my experience that biology does not win out,” Bender said.
Three’s a crowd
One case playing out in New York now illustrates how complicated some modern custody cases have become.
Two men, longtime partners, agreed to have children using the sperm of one of the men and eggs from the sister of the other, who served as a surrogate and had several older children of her own.
The two dads, kids and mom were one big happy unit — until they weren’t.
The cases can tear families apart, says lawyer Sheila Callahan O’Donnell, who called the bitter custody conflict described above “a human tragedy.”
Formal surrogacy is not legally recognized in New York state, so in this case, the trio signed an agreement, meant to ensure the sister would always be a part of the children’s lives, O’Donnell said.
But the men never married, and over the years the man whose sister carried the children to term didn’t legally adopt, the lawyer said, calling it “an issue they didn’t pursue.”
So when the biological father decided to end the relationship and move the children, now about 5 years old, out of state, his partner was left without a legal claim to the kids his sister bore for him. The lawyer is fighting to get the partner recognized as a “psychological parent,” and the three sides are now battling in court.
“He’s getting a really raw deal…[and] the birth mother, the sister, is being treated as if she doesn’t exist,” the Cornwall-based lawyer said. “It’s not as if she decided to carry children for a stranger. She did it for her brother. So the biological dad has stolen the children, and so far the system has worked for him.”
Three is often a crowd in court, said Friedman, who noted a case in which a lesbian couple used a sperm donor to get pregnant but didn’t have the procedure done under medical supervision.
“When it’s done under medical supervision, everyone signs off. Everyone knows the game rules,” she said.
In this case, the sperm donor was not anonymous, and the biological mother was fighting to have him held legally recognized as a parent.
“The kids know him as dad. The kids know they have three parents,” she said. “The courts don’t recognize three parents.”
Even when there’s no conflict between the parties, complexities arise, such as in the case of a lesbian couple who had successful in vitro fertilization and donated their extra embryos to another couple, who used the embryos to have a child.
The kids of both couples are genetically related to each other, but the second couple has no biological connection to their own child. The pair who donated the eggs was asked to sign off on the arrangement.
The two dads, kids and mom were one big happy unit — until they weren’t.
There was no disagreement in this case, but if there was, there’s no guarantee a judge would recognize the second couple’s status as legal parents.
“The law hasn’t kept up, because gay couples have children in different ways, it’s not the typical way it’s been done,” says matrimonial lawyer Eric Wrubel, who heads the New York State Bar Association’s LGBT Committee.
The standard of “what’s best for the child” is hard enough with two biological parents — it can be baffling with three or more adults involved.