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Cohabitating couples may lose custody of minor children

A Dallas judge recently issued a controversial ruling, telling a lesbian couple that they must cease living together or one of the women would lose custody of her children. The case may raise equal protection issues, but actually can affect the lives of parents of any sexual orientation who wish to live with a partner prior to marriage. The couple has stated that they believe the order to be unconstitutional, but that they will follow it and establish separate residences.

The situation arose when the woman's ex-husband asked the judge to enforce what is called a 'morality clause," a section of the child custody order stating that the parent may not have unrelated overnight guests while the children are in the home. These morality clauses have become more common in conservative states, including Texas, based on the belief that minor children may be harmed from seeing an unmarried parent in a sexual relationship with someone other the other parent.

As antiquated as it sounds, this was not the first of this type of case in recent memory. In 2012, an Alabama woman lost custody for living with her fiance prior to the wedding. An appeals court upheld the decision, stating that a parent's sexual conduct can be used to determine whether a person is fit to raise children. Recently, a Kentucky high court overturned a 2012 decision that the mere fact of a parent's homosexuality could harm children.

Custody disputes can be complicated. A local family law attorney may be able to help negotiate agreements that can help make the process easier. An attorney may also be able to challenge unfair provisions in a custody order.

Source: Salon, "Judge tells lesbian couple to separate-or lose kids", Irin Carmon, May 23, 2013

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