In what is being hailed as a first in Alabama, a family law judge has granted unrestricted child visitation rights to a lesbian mother and her partner, following what has been a prolonged and contentious battle.
Our Birmingham child visitation lawyers know that prevented this mother from overnight visits for a long time was a provision in the state's family law system known as a "paramour restriction." This is a well-established facet of the law that indicates that exposing children to morally questionable behavior – i.e., the overnight stays of a boyfriend or girlfriend – could be damaging to the children.
These restrictions are applicable regardless of the sexual orientation of the people involved. While it's become a growing point of contention in family courtrooms across the state, as co-habitation rates have increased significantly in recent years, it's been especially difficult for homosexual couples.
The reason is this: The one way around this provision is to get married. This way, the person living with you is no longer identified as a paramour, but a spouse, and the negative moral implications are dissolved. However, same-sex couples can't marry in Alabama and even if they marry out-of-state, those unions aren't recognized by the state. So parents who happen to be homosexual and disputing custody and visitation arrangements have faced major obstacles, unless they chose to live alone and refuse overnight guests while the children were present.
This ruling doesn't change the law, but it shows the tide may be shifting.
The case began with a husband and wife from Seattle, who had divorced in early 2010, with four children between them. The father was awarded custody of the kids, ages 5 through 10. He was subsequently transferred by the military to a base outside of Mobile. The mother moved to Alabama to be closer to the children.
However, the father fought the mother's right to see the children. He sought to modify the visitation conditions on the basis that the mother was a lesbian and in an open, live-in relationship with another woman. He also said she had taken her children to a gay pride parade in Seattle, allowed them to watch "inappropriate" movies and sometimes kissed and were otherwise affectionate with one another in front of the children.
The father wanted only supervised visitations, and only then on the condition that the mother's partner not be in attendance.
Even though this woman had entered into an out-of-state civil union with her partner, that union was not recognized by the state. However, it's uncertain whether the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act opens cases like this up to further scrutiny.
In the end, a county circuit judge approved a settlement agreement between the mother and father during which the father retains custody, the mother is awarded unrestricted visitation and child support payments are made by the mother to the father in the amount of $465 monthly.
It's possible that this case could have positive implications for straight cohabiting couples, though the full extent of its impact remains to be seen.
If you are seeking help in a Birmingham custody dispute, contact Birmingham Family Law Attorney Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.
Possible Alabama first: Judge allows children overnight visits to Mobile lesbian mom and partner, Aug. 1, 2013, By Brendan Kirby, AL.com