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Determining child custody rights for nontraditional families

Over the years, there has been a shift in how the traditional "American family" has been perceived. Along with this shift, a number of considerations also arise when a couple chooses to get a divorce or end the relationship. What happens when a nontraditional couple decides to separate but shares custody of a child?

In most child custody disputes, both parents want to be a part of their child's life but it is agreeing on how the relationships will look that creates tension between the two. When establishing a custody arrangement, the court will look at what is in the best interests of the child. But things can get complicated when one parent isn't the biological parent yet has played an equal role in raising the child.

One particular child custody dispute was between two women fighting for parental rights of a little girl. One woman is the biological mother of the girl and did not want the other woman to have any parental rights after their relationship ended. However the non-biological mother had helped raise the girl and wanted to continue a mother-daughter relationship.

The court overseeing this case determined that, although a relationship between the non-biological mother and the girl existed and was encouraged by the biological mother, this did not mean that the biological mother intended to permanently give the non-biological mother any type of custody rights. Therefore the non-biological mother does not have any parental rights.

While this case occurred in one specific state, it raises the question of how courts will address nontraditional family situations in proceedings like child support and child custody. Do non-biological parents have any parental rights? What if they were a father or mother for a number of years? As the number of nontraditional families continues to grow, more states and courts will need to begin addressing these concerns.

Source: The Columbus Dispatch online, "Supreme Court rules for biological mom in lesbian custody dispute," Darrel Rowland, 12 July 2011

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