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Tennessee judge grants woman a father's right to custody

In a hotly contested legal divorce between a lesbian couple, the Tennessee court did what many consider the only rational decision: They granted the non-biological mother the same parenting and custodial rights and responsibilities that a man would have over a child that his wife conceived during the marriage.

The case concerned the custody fight over a child conceived and born to a married lesbian couple through the use of an anonymous donor and artificial insemination.

The couple had married in 2014 in Washington D.C., where same-sex marriages were legal, then settled in Tennessee, where they were not. They had a child together in 2015 -- but, just like many heterosexual couples, their marriage fell apart. The custody issue became acrimonious.

Unfortunately for the non-biological mother, since Tennessee didn't recognize same-sex marriages at that time of their daughter's birth, their daughter's birth certificate only included the biological mother's name as a parent.

The biological mother sought to bar her former spouse from seeing the child by contending that Tennessee's laws on children conceived by artificial insemination were clearly designed only to confer presumptive parental rights to the husband -- a male -- of the woman who conceived.

The non-biological mother was initially denied any custody rights. She then filed a legal challenge over the law's constitutionality, since it was passed years before same-sex marriage was even close to being a national law. In response, dozens of conservative lawmakers in the state tried to intervene in the case by rushing through a bill that would order the court to determine cases based on the natural meaning of words like "husband" and "father" without regard to interpretation under same-sex marriage laws -- even though the state's own Attorney General had opined that family court judges would likely ignore such a law.

The judge in the case essentially blocked the legislature from intervening in the family drama and told them to stay out of his courtroom, declaring it a violation of the separation of powers under the state constitution.

The State Attorney General, for her part, supported the family court's decision and the use of gender-neutral interpretations. Because the challenge affects large portions of the state's law, she was required to file an opinion -- and her opinion was that the non-biological mother should be accorded the rights and duties of any father in that situation.

If you're dealing with a complicated custody issue of your own, seek legal assistance as soon a possible.

Source: USA TODAY, "Lesbian granted rights of 'husband' in same-sex divorce," Jamie Satterfield, Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel, May 10, 2017

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