Child Custody for Same Sex Couples in Pennsylvania
There is no distinction in how courts handle marriages and divorces, whether between traditional couples or same-sex couples. When the separation of same-sex spouses involves children, they have to address child custody and child support matters. Nonetheless, there exist specific nuances in the legal framework concerning parent-child relationships that individuals in same-sex unions should be aware of. Factors such as the child’s entrance into the relationship, the involvement of one or both biological parents, adoption status, and marital status can all influence a court’s custody decisions.
Pennsylvania courts can grant different degrees of physical and legal custody, depending on the unique cisrcumstances.
Domestic Partners in PA & In Loco Parentis
In the case of domestic partnerships, where one of the partners is not a biological parent, the legal status of in loco parentis must be used to determine whether the non-biological partner has standing to proceed. Standing, in legal terms, means a person’s right to take a case before the court based upon their connection to the case. A person must have a significant connection to be able to take a case before the court.
The phrase “in loco parentis ” refers to a person who puts oneself in the situation of a lawful parent by assuming the obligations incident to the parental relationship without going through the formality of a legal adoption. The status of in loco parentis embodies two ideas; first, the assumption of a parental status, and, second, the discharge of parental duties. If a person can prove that they stand in loco parentis to a child they have standing to go before the court seeking custody rights.
What Courts Require for In Loco Parentis
It may be difficult to prove a non-biological parent stands in loco parentis to the child in court if no adoption occurs. Hearings are HIGHLY fact specific and require a clear in loco parentis showing. Courts look at:
- Relationship of the child and same-sex partner.
- Maturity of the couple.
- The length of the relationship between the same sex couple and whether they live together with the child.
- The intentions of both partners to parent together and what steps, if any, were taken to ensure that joint parenting would take place.
- Any co-parenting agreements or other documents regarding the child that had both partners listed as parents.
Legal Custody & Adoption
Custody proceedings will follow a similar process to those of heterosexual couples, when both parties hold legal custody. In Pennsylvania, same-sex couples can gain legal custody and have equal parental rights when the child was born into the marriage, through joint adoption and stepparent or second parent adoption. Second parent adoption allows a second parent to adopt a child without the first parent losing any parental rights and grants both parents the same legal rights as those enjoyed by more traditional family structures. Whenever a parent consents to the adoption of his or her child by his or her partner, the parent-child relationship between that biological parent and the child remains, whether or not he or she is one of the petitioners in the adoption proceeding.
How Can A Family Lawyer Help Same Sex Couples with Child Custody Issues
A good family lawyer in Pennsylvania can provide you with legal advice specific to your situation. In cases where a same-sex couple includes a biological and non-biological parent, a family lawyer can assist with issues related to adoption and establishing legal parentage, ensuring both parents have the legal rights and responsibilities associated with parenthood.
The lawyer can help you draft a custody agreement that outlines the terms of child custody and visitation. This document can be used as a reference during negotiations or in court. A family lawyer can represent you during mediation or negotiation with the other parent. They can help you reach an agreement that is in the best interests of the child and protect your rights as a parent. If an agreement cannot be reached through negotiation, your family law attorney can represent you in court. They will present your case, argue on your behalf, and advocate for a custody arrangement that aligns with the best interests of the child.