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The Difficulties and Complexities of LGBT Divorce and Child Custody

What complicates the divorce and child support issues of LGBT couples?

While same-sex marriage and divorce is now the law of the land, many LGBT couples who bonded prior to marital gender equality are suffering inequities resulting from past injustice. The legal complexities don’t just cause confusion and logistical problems. They deeply affect the families involved, in terms of visitation, child support, and emotional anguish. If you find yourself in a situation involving same-sex divorce or parenting time, you should make sure your rights are vigorously protected by an experienced and talented family attorney.

Serious problems arise for LGBT couples who married and are attempting to divorce in states that did not recognize same-sex marriage until the Supreme Court decision. Because of inconsistent laws and incorrect information, some separated partners are discovering they are still legally married, and others are fighting for legal rights to access the children they have helped to raise.

One Disturbing Case: Chris Strickland and Kimberly Day

An example of how twisted legal matters can become, and how great the emotional toil can be on the individuals involved, can be found in the case of lesbian couple Chris Strickland and Kimberly Day. The two met in 1999 and had been together for over 15 years. During those years, when they were in love and wanted to start a family, same-sex couples could neither marry nor adopt children in Mississippi, the state in which they resided.

“Their” Children

Two years before they married, Day adopted a 6-year-old boy on her own since that was the only way the couple could bring a child into their family. The boy, now a teenager, was raised by both women until they separated. Although Strickland’s name is not on the adoption papers, she considers him her son as much as Day does. Strickland says that she and the boy are suffering because she has no legal rights as his parent. She has stated: “I was in his life from day one…that’s my child. A piece of paper doesn’t mean anything to me.”

When the couple decided to marry in 2009, they flew to Massachusetts where same-sex marriage was legal and then returned to Mississippi. Two years later, Day became pregnant through in vitro fertilization and gave birth to a boy who is now 5 years of age. At that time, Mississippi still did not recognize the couple’s marriage, so only Day’s name was permitted to be on his birth certificate.

The Separation and Its Bizarre Consequences

The couple separated in 2013 and Day stated at that time that she wanted a divorce. When she tried to get a divorce in Massachusetts, the state in which the couple had been legally married, she was told that one member of the couple would have to live in the state for a year before the divorce could be granted. Since this was impossible and they couldn’t get a divorce in Mississippi because the state never recognized their marriage in the first place, they were between a rock and a hard place.

To further complicate matters, Day had fallen in love with a man whom she wanted to marry, but was not yet divorced from her wife. Told by Mississippi officials that she could marry the man of her choice without being a bigamist because Mississippi had never recognized her marriage to Strickland, she did so during that same year (2013). When the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage 2 years later, however, the validity of the second marriage was called into question. When Strickland served Day with divorce papers a judge found that Day was still legally married to Strickland, and that her marriage to her husband was void. The women are now headed to divorce court in September. Strickland will also battle for joint custody of the boys.

Two Opposing Viewpoints at the time of Separation

Now that the couple has separated, there are, as in almost all broken marriages, two varying accounts of what’s happened. Strickland says that she was blindsided by a letter from Day declaring that she wanted to separate. Day says there were terrible arguments and that Strickland physically abused her in front of the children. One fact that can be substantiated is that Strickland was the breadwinner during more of the marriage, but took a year off after the baby was born to stay home with him while Day worked.

Strickland voluntarily paid child support once she moved out of the family home and Day granted her parenting time with the children. Day alleges that Strickland’s new girlfriend was abusive to Strickland in front of the children and that the girlfriend negligently caused a fire in Day’s home. Day is now denying Strickland access to the children.


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