Fathers & Families is quoted on the high-profile Miller-Jenkins lesbian child custody dispute in Padraic Maroney’s new The Edge article With Gay Marriage comes… Gay Divorce (3/22/10). We also discuss the problem of “forum shopping” in custody battles. This is a problem to a degree in heterosexual divorces, as estranged spouses might try to maneuver to have their divorces done in states that are more sympathetic to one side or another.
For example, if a couple had lived in Massachusetts and a different state, the mother might want to have the divorce in Massachusetts, which has a high child support guideline and pro-recipient alimony laws, and the father might try to get the divorce done in a more sympathetic state.
This is much more of an issue in gay custody battles, because the laws on gay marriage vary greatly from state to state. In the custody dispute between Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins, for example, Miller, the biological mother who fought to drive Jenkins out of her daughter’s life, maneuvered the case out of Vermont, whose laws are sympathetic to gays, to Virginia, which does not recognize gay marriage.
Regardless of whether one supports or opposes gay marriage, lesbian custody battles are enormously illustrative of the dynamics behind heterosexual family court battles.
Mothers are often able to convince courts to allow them to drive decent, loving fathers out of their children”s lives by employing anti-father/pro-mother stereotypes and by portraying dads as abusive or unfit. But there are no abusive males or bad dads in lesbian custody battles. Nevertheless, when two lesbians agree to have a child together and the relationship goes sour, the lesbian biological mom often does the exact same thing to her ex as heterosexual mothers do.
Certainly there are abusive fathers from whom mothers need protection in family court, but when a mother decides to drive a father out of his kids” lives, abuse or unfitness isn”t usually the motivation. While Fathers & Families takes no position on gay marriage, we do defend the right of all fit parents to play a meaningful role in their children’s lives.
Fathers & Families generally views lesbian or gay custody disputes as analogous to cases of married heterosexual couples where the man is infertile and the couple uses a sperm donor. Such children are considered the children of the marriage, and are raised by both the mother and father.
If the couple divorces, the woman can’t decide that because she’s the only biological parent, she can drive her ex out of their child’s life. She agreed to have children with her then-husband, and the former husband has a parent-child relationship with their child. The husband is the child’s father and the child’s right to a relationship with him must be protected, regardless of the mother’s recalcitrance.
The lesbian custody cases Fathers & Families has gotten involved in, such as the Hobbs-Mullen custody dispute or the Miller-Jenkins case, are no different–the couple agreed to have a child together, had one via a sperm donor, and raised the child together. The loving bond the non-biological/social mother has with the child doesn’t dissolve upon breakup, nor can it be tossed aside because the biological mom no longer finds it convenient–the bond must be protected.