Waldlaw Blog

Monday, February 13, 2006

A Strategy for Lesbians Co-Parenting with Their Ex-Partners

I'm excited about a new group of cases I'm handling, so I have to share. When the California Supreme Court ruled on a trio of lesbian custody cases last August, I immediately started getting phone calls from non-biological lesbian mothers who had lost contact with the children they had previously raised with their now-ex-partners. The basic question was: "I raised my child with my ex-partner for [3, 5, 7] years, then we broke up and she told me I couldn't see him any more. I haven't seen my child in [1, 3, 5 years]. Now that we won in the Supreme Court, can I start seeing my child again??" These calls were heartbreaking and empowering at the same time, because -- for the first time in my professional career -- I had genuine hope to offer these women. But I didn't take the cases myself, because I don't litigate at the trial court level. Instead, I helped refer these women on to attorneys who could help them. But now, 6 months after the Supreme Court's rulings (and if you don't know what I'm talking about, go back to my posts from August, where I discuss them fairly extensively), I am getting a new round of phone calls. This time, the calls are coming from women who have been struggling through the process of continuing to co-parent with now-ex-partners, with more or less success, but with all the challenges that co-parenting with an ex involves. These women are now looking to legalize the relationships between the other parent and the child, but in a way that recognizes that they are not a unitary family and provides structure to their custody/visitation/child support arrangments. In other words, these are women who are prepared to agree with the Supreme Court that children born into a lesbian home get to have two parents -- two mothers -- but for whom the process of co-parenting is not easy. I am loving these cases. And I've worked out a strategy that I think offers a lot of stability and support to these families. This is how it works: We make sure that each woman is represented by an attorney committed to collaborative law practice. Then, we send the ex-couple off to meet with a child custody mediator/therapist, who works with them on their issues and helps them formulate a custody and visitation agreement. (This can be relatively general or very detailed, depending on the needs of the individuals involved.) Once the custody and visitation agreement is in place, we have a gathering of both women and both lawyers, to go over the agreement, hammer out the "legal" details, deal with any property issues, and get it all into a legal format. Then we go to court with a stipulation that both women are moms, based on the Supreme Court cases, and get a judgment to that effect -- but with the final custody agreement as part of the judgment. So the ruling isn't just "this child has two mothers" -- it's "this child has two mothers and one of them is going to have the child on Sunday-Wednesday and the other will have the child on Thursday-Saturday and they will alternate holidays...." Or whatever.... This is a way to provide structure and security to women who are muddling their ways through the challenges of co-parenting with their ex's, which supports their impulse to be fair but also recognizes that sometimes issues are real and some structure is a good thing. It seems to be working well, so if you know folks in this situation, please send them my way!


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