One of the more challenging decisions to make after the breakup of a marriage or other romantic relationship is the custody arrangement for the child. When same-sex partners separate, the custody arrangement for their child can be further complicated by several factors, such as whether both spouses or partners are the child’s legal parents and, if not, whether both played a role in parenting the child.

In a disputed child custody case, courts have significant discretion when making determinations about custody and visitation.

Whether you and your partner married, how and when your child came into the relationship, and whether your child has any ongoing relationship with another biological or legal parent are all facts a skilled attorney can discuss with you. A Washington, D.C. same-sex child custody lawyer could help you develop a parenting plan with your former partner/spouse or, if you cannot agree on a custodial arrangement, presenting your case in family court.

Best Interest of the Child Standard

Under the Code of the District of Columbia §16-914, the child’s best interest is the primary consideration in any custody proceeding. To determine a child’s best interest, a judge may consider certain factors, including the parents’ ability to communicate about the child. If the child is mature enough to make a reasonable decision, which in Washington, D.C. is usually age 12 or older, the court may consider the child’s preference regarding custody.

Parenting Plans in Washington, D.C.

Before making a custody decision, a judge may require each parent to submit a proposed Parenting Plan that sets out both parents’ rights and responsibilities in raising their child. The Parenting Plan may also include information regarding:

  • Where the child will live
  • The child’s education
  • The child’s religious affiliation or training
  • How the parents will communicate about their child
  • How much time the child will spend with each parent, including the sharing of holidays, school breaks, and summer vacations

After considering the proposed Parenting Plan, a judge may award joint or ‘shared’ custody to the parents or, if the judge is not convinced that the parents can effectively raise their child together, primary custody to one parent and visitation to the other. A knowledgeable same-sex child custody attorney could help develop a Parenting Plan that sets out a specific, workable custody and visitation schedule for both parents and the child.

Custody Considerations for Same-Sex Parents

If a same-sex couple is married in D.C., both partners are deemed the legal parent of any child born or adopted by either partner after the marriage. However, if the partners did not marry, determining who is entitled to custodial and visitation rights may be more difficult.

Both Parents Are the Child’s Legal Parents

Custody of a child will be decided solely on what is in that child’s best interest if both parents are the child’s legal parents, and therefore on equal footing. Both may be legal parents if the child was born to one partner and then adopted by the other in a second-parent adoption or the parents jointly adopted the child. A stepparent may also become a legal parent by adopting their partner’s child from a prior relationship.

Only One Parent is the Legal Parent

If the same-sex couple’s child was never legally adopted by the non-biological parent, or one partner adopted a child, but the other partner did not join in the adoption, only one partner is the legal parent. The partner who did not give birth or adopt may be denied custody or visitation with the child unless they can prove that they acted as a de facto parent to the child.

A de facto parent is someone who is a live-in caregiver for a child, parents the child on a day-to-day basis, and has met the child’s physical and emotional needs for a significant time. The biological or adoptive parent must consent to the establishment of this parent-like relationship. A knowledgeable same-sex child custody lawyer could assist a party in establishing, or arguing against, de facto parent status for a former partner.

Domestic Partnerships

Washington, DC is one of few states or districts that still legalize domestic partnerships. If a child is born to a couple who has properly registered as a domestic partnership, that child is considered both partners’ legal child.

How a Washington DC Same-Sex Custody Lawyer Can Help

In addition to the emotional distress custody disputes can cause, same-sex parents face certain legal challenges. Identifying the legal relationship between children and their same-sex parents and caregivers is essential to a custody determination. Additionally, navigating the ‘best interest of the child’ factors and constructing viable parenting plans is essential for a successful custody case. Consult with one of our firm’s experienced Washington, D.C. child custody lawyers to discuss all the available options in your case.