When couples who share children divorce or split up, child custody matters can be a major source of anxiety or point of contention. This can be especially true for the non-biological parent in a same-sex marriage or relationship that's ending. That's because, until recently, non-biological same-sex parents were not afforded the same child custody and visitation rights that heterosexual couples have when divorcing. This meant that, if a biological mother wanted to deny custody or visitation to the non-biological same-sex co-parent after a divorce or separation, they were well within their legal rights to do so.
Fortunately, the law has changed and Oklahoma courts now recognize the rights of non-biological same-sex parents. However, that doesn't guarantee that non-biological same-sex parents who are seeking to establish their parental rights won't face challenges. If you're embroiled in a same-sex custody battle—or are anticipating one—you need a knowledgeable and highly-skilled Oklahoma divorce and family law attorney to help you assert and protect your rights. Here's what you need to know.
Schnedler v. Lee
In June, 2019, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that non-biological parents in same-sex relationships can seek to establish custody and visitation rights equal to those of the biological parent. The landmark decision was issued in the case of Schnedler v. Lee, which involved a same-sex couple who had a child together during a 10-year relationship. When the couple split up, the biological parent, Lee, denied custody and visitation to her former partner, Schnedler, who sued for parental rights. Schnedler lost at the district court and Court of Civil Appeals. The Oklahoma Supreme Court reviewed the case and reversed the rulings of the lower courts, establishing a test by which non-biological parents can establish their parental rights.
Establishing Same-Sex Parental Rights in Oklahoma
According to the Oklahoma Supreme Court's ruling in Schnedler v. Lee, non-biological parents who wish to establish child custody and visitation rights must demonstrate that they:
- Engaged in family planning with the intent to parent jointly
- Acted in a parental role for a length of time sufficient to have established a meaningful emotional relationship with the child
- Resided with the child for a significant period while holding out the child as their own
In order to secure parental rights, the non-biological same-sex parent—and their attorney—must prove those three points by a preponderance of the evidence.
Decision-Making Standard in Oklahoma Child Custody Cases
Oklahoma requires that all child custody decisions be made with the “best interests" of the child in mind. This decision-making standard played a large role in the Oklahoma Supreme Court's decision, as it found that giving non-biological same-sex parents the ability to attain complete parity with biological parents was consistent with a child's best interests. The state supreme court also instructed the lower courts to use this standard when determining whether a non-biological same-sex parent has met the criteria to be granted child custody, visitation, and other parental rights.
Child Custody in Oklahoma
In Oklahoma, child custody doesn't just determine where a child will live and when—it also confers the legal authority to make important decisions on a child's behalf.
Parents divorcing in the Sooner State are often awarded joint custody, which means that both parents share physical custody and legal (decision-making) custody to varying degrees. If you're a non-biological same-sex parent, you'll need the representation of an accomplished attorney to ensure that the time you're granted with your child is fair.
Let Us Help You Resolve Your Same-Sex Child Custody Issue
If, like many parents, your world revolves around your child, having their biological parent—your former partner—threaten to deny you custody or visitation rights can turn your entire world upside down. Fortunately, you don't have to take this injustice lying down. The law now recognizes the rights of non-biological same-sex parents in situations like yours, and the accomplished legal team with the Law Office of Aaron D. Bundy, PLC, can fight to help you establish and protect those rights. Want to learn more? Contact us today to schedule an appointment for a free initial consultation with a skilled member of our legal team.