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Study shows parents' sexual orientation influences child custody

Fortunately for same-sex couples in Washington, the right to marry and derive the benefits of marriage are legal in the state. Still, gay and lesbian parents may still have something to be concerned about, according to a new study that examines the consequences for gay and lesbian parents in one specific element of divorce: child custody.

The Drexel University study titled "Lesbian and Gay Parents and Determination of Child Custody" found that a parent's sexuality is often a significant factor that a judge weighs in determining which parent should have custody of a couple's children. The Drexel study analyzed hundreds of child-custody battles involving same-sex parents.

The study authors noted that the sexuality of a parent still seems to be a deciding factor in assigning custody even though many studies have determined that gay or lesbian parents are just as effective at being parents as heterosexual parents.

For example, when a gay parent is asking for custody, a court routinely uses the so-called Nexus test to determine whether a parent's sexuality could negatively affect a child, but the burden is supposed to fall on the heterosexual parent to prove that the other parent's sexuality could be harmful. Unfortunately, "harm" is a debatable concept, and some judges accept harm as anything opposite heterosexuality, which they regard as the standard of normality. This often leads them to rule against a gay or lesbian parent.

Regardless of their sexuality, most parents in Washington are basically concerned with the welfare of their children. Although the Drexel study demonstrates that a discriminatory attitude not backed up by evidence can affect a child-custody decision, other child-raising arrangements are possible if the child's parents are willing to find a way to share custody or co-parent. Doing so can honor both parents' rights and positively affect the child.

Source: Care2, "Family Courts are in Science-Denial When it comes to Gay Parenting," Steve Williams, April 25, 2014

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