Child Custody Issues For Same-Sex Divorce in Michigan

The United States Supreme Court decision last June to allow for same sex marriage also provides for divorce. Resolving matters of child custody can be even more complex in same-sex divorces. One such case in Michigan involving a same sex couple has gathered enough constitutional issues to garner the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The Relationship and The Breakup

Joy Phillips and Amber Berndt were together for over a decade, during which time the couple bought two houses together and Amber gave birth to two daughters using donated sperm. The girls, now ages ten and seven, were born before same sex marriage became legal, but they were co-parented 50/50 and called both women "mom." Even after the breakup, Berndt and Phillips continued to share custody of their daughters. Each claims she was the primary caregiver.

When Berndt decided she wanted to relocate with her new partner and bring the children with her, Phillips protested and petitioned the court for formalization of the shared custody. Here, the battle enters into what might be considered relatively normal custody disputes. Phillips claims that Berndt denied her parenting time and that the girls are devastated while Berndt contests the girls hardly mention the absence.

ACLU Involvement

As the battle entered the courts, lawyers from the ACLU stepped in to defend Phillips. Berndt's attorney claims Phillips has no legal right to claim custody of the children since she did not give birth to them. However, Phillips' attorney contends Phillips should not be held as a legal stranger to the children she has helped raise since birth simply because law, at the time, did not allow the couple to be married. The ACLU's LGBT Project lawyer agrees with Phillips and argues that it would be unconstitutional to deny Phillips the right to her children. In a heterosexual relationship, one parent could never legally deny the other natural parent's rights to the children. However, stepparents do not necessarily have the same rights. Same sex couples are breaking new legal ground in this area. There are already several cases where same sex divorces have led to one parent having their children taken away from them. However, ultimately the Michigan Supreme Court may have to decide how their custody battle will end.

Consultations Regarding Same Sex Divorce and Custody

If you are in a same sex relationship in Michigan and have questions regarding divorce and custody issues similar to those of Phillips and Berndt, it is time to speak with an experienced divorce attorney. Contact The Law Offices of Michael A. Robbins to talk about the specifics of your case. Mr. Robbins is recognized as one of the foremost family law authorities in Michigan and has years of experience handling divorces and custody battles. Call 248-646-7980 or contact him online to discuss which options are available to you and how best to move forward with your case. Services are available in the Tri-County area of Oakland, Wayne, and Macomb counties as well as greater Michigan.