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Maryland court ruling confirms that being a parent is about more than biology

Maryland's same-sex marriage law went into effect on Jan. 1, 2013 and while the law seeks to provide marriage equality for all state residents, same-sex couples who chose to have their own or who adopt children often still encounter legal obstacles and challenges.

Same-Sex Couples and Child Custody

When a child is born to a heterosexual married couple, the man is automatically presumed to be the child's father man and afforded legal parental rights. If heterosexual parents later decide to divorce, the father is able to immediately file for custody and visitation rights.

Previously, in a subsequent divorce or split, the only way for gay and lesbian parents, who are not biologically related to their child, to gain legal parental rights was to go through the formal adoption process. Barring an official adoption, a non-biological parent had no legal rights to petition for child custody or visitation. However, a recent decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals to recognize a man who was not a child's biological or adoptive parent as a de facto parent is likely to impact the outcomes of other similar custody and visitation cases throughout the state.

Conover v. Conover: De Facto Parentage Ruling

In 2010, a lesbian couple decided to conceive a child using an anonymous sperm donor. Shortly after the child's birth, the women were legally married and both assumed the roles of parents and raised the child for two years before they divorced.

The woman, who is not the child's biological mother, never legally adopted the child and consequently, her 2013 petition for child custody and visitation was denied--a decision which was appealed.

Since the lower court's ruling, the lesbian woman now identifies as a transgender man. On July 7, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the man, providing him de facto parental rights. According to the court, "an individual who has been a 'de facto parent' to a child - who has raised a child together with the child's other legal parent - has standing under Maryland law to have custody of or visitation with their child."

The Impact of Conover v. Conover for Same-Sex Parents

The court's decision with regard to the designation of de facto parental rights legally recognizes what many non-biological parents and individuals who have assumed a parental role in a child's life already know; that biology alone does not make a parent.

For same-sex parents who are not biologically related to their child, the Conover v. Conover ruling is a major win and, if allowed to stand, can pave the way for other parents who wish to gain child custody and visitation rights.

Matters related to child custody are often highly emotional and can be complex. It's wise, therefore, to seek the advice and assistance of an attorney who handles family law and child custody issues and who can provide strong legal advocacy for you and your child.

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