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Landmark same-sex child custody case in Tennessee

A same-sex custody battle in Tennessee over a child conceived using artificial insemination may set a precedent in the state for future similar cases. The couple married in May 2014 in Washington, D.C., when same-sex marriage was legal there but not in Tennessee.

In January 2015, one of the women gave birth, but the other woman did not legally adopt the child. In June of that same year, the Supreme Court ruled that states could not prohibit same-sex marriages, so the state of Tennessee had to recognize the couple's marriage as well as their divorce the following year.

On June 24, a judge ruled that the woman who was not biologically related to the child only had the rights of a stepparent. This meant that she could not make legal or medical decisions for the child. The judge was reluctant to use existing custody laws, which use the language "mother and father" and "husband and wife," despite the request of the woman's lawyer. The judge did approve a motion to take the case to the Tennessee Court of Appeals, and the case may ultimately go to the Tennessee Supreme Court. A higher court will decide whether the matter is a judicial or legislative one. For now, the non-biological mother has limited visitation rights.

For any other same-sex couples with children in a similar situation, the outcome of this ruling will be particularly significant. People in a same-sex relationship who are considering divorce may want to consult an attorney. It might be possible for the couple to work out a child custody agreement in which each is satisfied. Children may adjust better to divorce if parents are more cooperative with one another.

Source: KSDK, "Same-sex divorce, custody battle could set precedent in TN," Becca Habegger, June 24, 2016

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