Two women who was legally married here in Massachusetts in 2009 are now embroiled in a custody dispute as they go through a divorce in Mississippi. It’s a not-uncommon dilemma for gay couples who faced a patchwork of state laws regarding same-sex marriage prior to its national legalization.
Same-sex marriage didn’t become legal in Mississippi until the June 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision. It was still being battled in the courts until the following month.
Although all states now have to legally recognize the rights of gay couples to marry, when it comes to getting divorced, particularly when there are children involved, many find themselves in a legal quagmire.
The two women who returned to their home state of Mississippi after marrying in Massachusetts have two children — one adopted and one conceived through in vitro fertilization. However, only one of the women is considered the children’s legal parent.
The woman who is not listed as the older child’s adoptive mother and is not the birth mother of the younger child says that the couple raised the children together, but now she has no parental rights, even for visitation.
The women separated in 2013, before their marriage was recognized in Mississippi. One served the other with divorce papers in the summer of 2015, after their marriage became legally recognized.
As with many divorcing couples, the relationship deteriorated into accusations and counter-accusations. However, unlike many custody disputes, one spouse isn’t recognized under the law as a parent of the children involved. The older one is now a teen. She’s fighting in court to have her name added to the child’s birth certificate and to have joint custody of both children.
The head of Marriage Equality USA says that despite the Supreme Court victory, there’s “still a lot of legal work…to be done.” Regarding this case, he says, “We’re talking about two women that raised two kids for 15 years. That’s a definite intention of building a family….”
Likely, questions of child custody will be an issue for same sex couples ending their relationships for the foreseeable future as states and courts work out these legal questions. Family law attorneys experienced in fighting for the legal rights of those in same-sex relationships can provide support and guidance.
Source: NBC News, “For Some Same-Sex Couples, Divorce Is a Legal Nightmare,” Julie Compton, Sep. 07, 2016