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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
April 1, 2005

Woman's former partner is still girl's parent, court rules

Pittsburgh--An appellate court once again on March 28 ruled in favor of a lesbian seeking visitation rights to a daughter she helped raise with her ex-lover, the girl�s biological mother.

The woman, identified in court papers as T.B., was in a committed relationship with her partner, L.R.M., when they decided to have a child. L.R.M. underwent assisted fertilization and gave birth to a daughter.

The couple raised the girl, identified as A.M., together for three years before breaking up in 1996.

Following their separation, L.R.M. refused to allow T.B. to see the girl and T.B. filed suit to force her former partner to allow visitation.

In 2001, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that T.B. was considered a parent to the child, ruling 5-2 that a lesbian or gay parent may seek visitation or custody of a child even if there is no biological or legal tie if that parent performed parental duties with the consent of the biological parent or legal guardian.

When the case was sent back to a lower court to work out visitation rights, however, that court said that L.R.M. had been so successful in alienating the child from her former partner that it was in the child�s best interest to bar T.B. from visitation rights.

T.B. challenged the decision in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, an appellate-level court, and a three-judge panel of the court rule unanimously in her favor.

�The majority�s provision for vacation of the stay on visitation with reasonable implementation of a schedule, hopefully supervised and assisted by counseling, is the first step to bring about a fruitful resolution of this problem,� Judge Michael T. Joyce wrote of the problems associated with the nine-year period in which T.B. was not allowed to have contact with A.M. �The need to go forward with evaluations of the home and school environments must proceed as rapidly as possible without disturbing the child�s emotional and physical stability. There must also be an in depth review and evaluation of A.M.�s multiple allergy, asthma and quasipsychological problems characterized as ADD/ADHD, which must be treated and considered while the attempt to install a visitation program is pursued.�

�Imagine a scenario where the same premise is applied to spouses,� he also wrote. �It is inconceivable that an embittered spouse who successfully estranges the children from the other spouse, to the point where the other spouse is unknown to the children, should be rewarded by a determination that it shall be in the best interest of the children not to have any relationship at all with the alienated spouse because of the custodial spouse�s feelings.�

�The preposterousness of this scenario is equally applicable to the case at bar, despite Appellant�s non-traditional status,� he concluded.

Alphonso David, a staff attorney with the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund who argued the case for T.B. before the appellate court, noted, �The court valued this parent-child relationship the same as any other, and acted to preserve it without regard to sexual orientation or the other parent�s bitterness. The court said the law against alienation should apply to all parents, without regard to sexual orientation or legal status.�

There has been no word yet whether L.R.M. will appeal the decision.

The women and the child were identified by their initials in court documents to protect the girl�s privacy.

 

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