LGBT Legal Advocates Re-Release Guide for Fair Practices in Parenting and Custody Agreements

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and NCLR's National Family Law Advisory Council are pleased to announce the release of a revised version of the groundbreaking publication Protecting Families: Standards for LGBT Families. The standards are a set of 10 guidelines that aim to remind LGBT parents of the importance of legally protecting the families they create and to caution parents against wielding anti-LGBT laws against their partner should their relationship break up.

The standards were originally authored by Mary L. Bonauto, the director of GLAD's Civil Rights Project, who has litigated precedent-setting cases on second-parent adoption and de facto parenthood, in collaboration with a group of parents, social workers and lawyers in Boston. First published in 1999 after a series of custody battles involving estranged same-sex couples arose in the courts and the media, they have now been revised and updated by GLAD with assistance from NCLR and its National Family Law Advisory Council to reflect recent changes in relationship recognition laws, including the implementation of marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships for same-sex couples in many states.

"We have seen significant gains in securing legal recognition for LGBT families and securing parent-child relationships in the last twelve years. But these standards are as relevant today as they were in 1999 because, due to inconsistencies in state laws, children are still best off if their parents take affirmative steps to protect their relationships," said Bonauto. "In many states, for instance, same-sex couples cannot jointly adopt a child, leaving one partner with no legally recognized relationship to that child. But whether or not state law recognizes a same-sex couple's relationship, those parents have the power to agree to maintain the parental relationships their children count on."

Last year, for example, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples could not jointly adopt. But just last month, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that a woman could seek custody and visitation rights for the son that she and her ex-partner, who gave birth to the child, raised together for five years until they ended their relationship, even though the woman was prohibited from adopting the child under Nebraska law.

"Too often, the children of same-sex couples are left vulnerable because the law does not always respect families headed by LGBT parents. Unfortunately, lawyers hostile to our community exploit parents in bitter break-ups," said William Singer, a member of the Family Law Advisory Council who litigated a landmark New Jersey case that allowed a same-sex couple to have both of their names on their child's birth certificate from the moment of birth. "These cases can hurt not just this one family, but make bad law for our whole community.

"We encourage lawyers counseling LGBT families to discuss these standards with their clients, not just when they are splitting up, but also when they are creating families," Singer added. "LGBT parents owe it to their children to protect relationships and to maintain continuity in their lives."

The revised standards will be discussed at the national LGBT Bar Association's upcoming annual Lavender Law Conference and Career Fair in Hollywood, Calif., during the Sept. 10 session "Family Relationship Recognition - Two Steps Forward, One Step Back." Singer will be among the speakers on the panel, as will family law practitioner Joyce Kauffman of Cambridge, Mass., who is also a member of NCLR's National Family Law Advisory Council and one of the original contributors to Protecting Families.

The LGBT Bar Association is among the LGBT organizations that have endorsed the standards.

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) is New England's leading legal organization dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, HIV status, and gender identity and expression.

For more information contact Laura Kiritsy at (617) 778-6723.

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