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Child custody dispute heard by Fla. Supreme Court

Child custody disputes come in many different forms, and affect both straight and gay couples who have children. Tampa residents may have read about a case in which the Florida Supreme Court recently heard arguments in a child custody dispute between two lesbians.

The women were in a relationship for 11 years, but separated two years after the birth of their child in 2004. The child had been conceived when one of the women donated an egg and had it fertilized and implanted in the other. The egg donor, a then 34-year-old law enforcement officer, sought parental rights when the couple separated. A Brevard Circuit Court judge denied parental rights to the egg donor, and instead granted custody to the woman who gave birth to the child, a 39-year-old law enforcement officer.

An appellate court ruled that both the donor and the woman who gave birth to the child should have parental rights, saying that the genetic mother was not a donor as described by the law. The Florida Supreme Court justices raised the possibility of sending the case back to trial court to resolve a potential factual dispute over a consent form issue.

When a child's parents are unmarried, most states require the mother be awarded sole physical custody unless the father takes action to be awarded custody. For unmarried parents involved in a custody dispute, child custody and visitation can be resolved either through an agreement between the child's parents, or by a family court judge's decision.

A judge will generally make custody decisions based on the best interests of the child. Such arrangements depend on each parent's situation and what the court deems to be in the best interest of the child. Courts consider numerous factors in determining the child's best interest, including but not limited to the emotional ties existing between parents and the child, a child's primary caretaker, and the capacity of the parents to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care or other remedial care.

Lawyers on both sides of the case believe it will not significantly affect the law because the outcome hinges upon its unique circumstances. Still, the outcome will greatly impact the lives of both women and their child. Child custody cases can be both time consuming and very emotionally difficult. It is important that all parents, married or not, understand their parental rights.

Source: Florida Today, "Lesbians' child custody battle goes before Fla. Supreme Court," Oct. 2, 2012

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