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Massachusetts court rules on same-sex child custody

An important judicial ruling was handed down by the Massachusetts Appeals Court on Feb. 2 regarding the rights of same-sex couples in child custody litigation. The court determined that child custody disputes between same-sex couples shall be treated in the same manner as disagreements are treated between heterosexual couples. The case arose when a same-sex couple from Suffolk County filed for divorce. They had arranged together for the artificial insemination of one partner two months before they were married. At issue was a current state law that refers only to a "husband" and a "married woman."

The individual who was artificially inseminated sought to terminate her ex-spouse's legal standing, since the woman was not a "husband." But the court disagreed, noting that both people were involved throughout the artificial insemination process and shared parenting duties while the couple was married.

The appeals court specifically referred to the groundbreaking decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 2003, which held that a same-sex marriage was legally equivalent to heterosexual marriage. The appeals court action upheld the decision of a lower court to keep the parental rights of the non-biological parent intact.

Observers indicated that the court's action was a natural extension of the law based on prior decisions. It essentially places same-sex couples on an equal playing field when it comes to child custody decisions. While it remains to be seen whether the case will be further appealed, it underscores the approach of the Massachusetts judiciary to treat this type of litigation the same, whether the parents are heterosexual or otherwise. The ruling would appear to bar attempts to terminate parental rights based upon gender in child custody proceedings so as to focus on what many believe is truly important: the best interests of the children involved.

Source: The Boston Globe, "Same sex parents share role, court says," John Ellement, Feb. 3, 2012

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