Chattanooga, TN- The child custody dispute of lesbian couple in Tennessee recently resulted in a landmark court decision that could impact future divorce cases involving LGBTQ couples in the state. In response to the decision, state Legislators launched a bid to intervene by passing a law that targets the language used in Witt’s case and to prevent courts from making similar decisions in future cases.
Tennessee Judge Rules in Favor of Lesbian Spouse Seeking Child Custody
The case involved, Erica and Sabrina Witt, a lesbian couple who married in Washington D.C. in 2014. After tying the knot, the couple conceived a child through artificial insemination, but Erica never formally adopted the child.
Initially, a Fourth Circuit Judge ruled that Erica Witt had no parental rights because she was not biologically related to the child. He also ruled she could not be given the same child custody rights as a husband since she was in a same-sex marriage. Judge Greg McMillan said in his ruling, “I believe this is a situation where (Erica Witt) has no biological relationship with this child, has no contractual relationship with this child.”
The decision was met with harsh criticism and compelled Judge McMillan to reverse his decision and grant Erica Witt status of husband, which will give her child custody rights.
Tennessee Law Invoked in Witt’s Case
After Judge McMillian reversed his decision, 53 legislators and a Conservative group Family Action Council, introduced the “Natural and Ordinary” language law, which was signed Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. The states that courts must interpret state laws by their “natural, ordinary meaning,” and applies to words like wife, husband, mother, and father. The “natural language” law would ban courts from giving a woman husband status, according to USA Today.
Judge McMillan responded to the law by telling the Legislature to stay out of the court’s business. He said in response to the law’s passage, “The court finds that the current request to intervene constitutes an attempt to bypass the separation of powers provided for by the Tennessee Constitution.”
Legislators have now filed an appeal of Judge McMillian’s decision.
Same-sex Spouses Should Consult
Same-sex couples have the same problems as heterosexual couples, and that includes separation, asset division, and child custody. But, as this case shows that divorce and child custody can be very complicated and same-sex couples often need the assistance of an attorney to resolve any issues that arise in their divorce.
Call and speak with one of our divorce lawyers in Tennessee to explain the divorce process. They can also inform you if you face any challenges getting the child custody arrangement or divorce settlement you deserve. Your first consultation is free.