Child custody law remains unclear for some unmarried parents

Law Office of Dawn R. Underhill

Many Illinois residents may not know how the law applies to them in a particular case, but they assume it applies equally to everybody in similar cases. This may not always be true, however, at least in the arena of child custody.

Issues may arise for gay couples in dealing with legal custody of a child after a relationship ends. In a heterosexual divorce, a child custody order will be entered by the court if the parents can not come to an agreement. In a same-sex relationship, however, the second parent’s custody rights may be unclear if that parent did not adopt the child and is not the biological parent.

In some states, these second parents have been held to have no legal rights to raise the child, despite acting as a parent for the child’s life. Other states may be more lenient, and treat the second parent as a regular, legal parent, if certain criteria are met. This includes looking at the length of the relationship between the same-sex partners, the steps that were taken by the partners regarding joint-parenting and the presence of any parenting agreements.

What’s more, heterosexual individuals may run into similar issues if they are not married and not the biological parent of a child. For instance, one man who was the father of a child conceived by an anoymous sperm donor is battling for custody after the child’s mother committed suicide. Despite the man’s efforts in raising the child, he has no blood relationship to the child and did not adopt the child after birth.

It remains to be seen whether the man will win his custody battle. The only thing that remains clear is the uncertainty of the law in cases such as this, and the need to work with a qualified attorney, who can advise as to the proper steps to obtaining custody in unique situations.

Source: NY Times, “When the law says a parent isn’t a parent,” Ginia Bellafante, Feb. 2, 2013

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Child custody law remains unclear for some unmarried parents