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Court rules in favor of same-sex stepparent visitation rights

On Aug. 6, a New Jersey court ruled in favor of a stepmother in a same-sex relationship who requested custody and visitation rights to the child she had spent several years co-parenting. According to the court, such rights should be granted if they are in the best interests of the child.

In doing so, the court recognized that children may develop significant psychological bonds with individuals who raise them and who are not their legal parents and that severing those bonds could be damaging to the child. The woman's initial effort at obtaining custody and visitation rights had been dismissed on the grounds that the child already had two fit parents.

The woman had been in a committed same-sex relationship with the child's biological mother from the time he was 18 months old. The two were registered as domestic partners and spent more than seven years parenting the child together, but after the end of the relationship, the biological mother tried to block the other woman's access to the child.

Increasingly, courts are recognizing the roles that stepparents, grandparents and other relatives or people with close family associations may play in a child's life. Often, these individuals do not realize that they may be able to file for custody or visitation rights following a divorce or other type of split between committed partners.

For example, two unmarried individuals may have been in a decade-long relationship. When the relationship ended, one parent may have been granted only limited visitation rights due to alcohol and drug abuse. However, the parents of that individual might want access to their grandchildren. They might consult an attorney about visitation rights to the grandchildren to avoid severing the psychological bond.

Source: The Rainbow Times, "NJ Court: Bonded Same-Sex Stepparents can Maintain Contact with Children they Have Raised", August 06, 2014

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