One state addresses paternity statute seeking clarification

As same-sex couples in Florida and other states continue to fight to secure their rights to marry and form families of their own, the law continues to lag behind. Even after the United States Supreme Court ruled to allow same-sex marriage, couples still encounter legal difficulties. Some of those problems are due to outdated language in state law that still discusses families in terms of "man" and "wife," or "mother" and "child." States are currently considering cases that involve the definition of "parent," sometimes based on the use of the word "paternity" in existing law.

At issue in at least one of these cases is whether or not a woman can be listed on the birth certificate of a child born by her wife. When couples reside in a state that uses the word "paternity" in the law, courts can and have ruled that only one woman can be listed on the child's birth certificate. That leaves the parent who did not give birth to the child in a tenuous legal position. It could impact custody rights and could also impact the parent's ability to cover the child under employment benefits.

Another issue is whether or not two same-sex individuals can be granted parental rights to the same child. That matter has come before courts across the nation, with vastly different outcomes. In some cases, a parent who has no biological connection to a child can be cut out of that child's life in the event of a divorce, even if he or she acted as the second parent throughout the child's life.

For Florida parents who are living in a same-sex marriage or relationship, it is absolutely critical to take steps to establish parental rights. Some couples choose to pursue an adoption to solidify those rights, similar to a stepparent adoption. Others draft parental "contracts" that clarify the intention of both parties to play a parental role in the child's life. Even though the Supreme Court has legitimized same-sex marriage, it will take some time before state courts catch up to that change, and for language such as "paternity" to be altered or removed from those laws.

Source:, "Arizona court ruling in gay-divorce case could change legal definition of parent", Alia Beard Rau, July 17, 2017

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