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California court rules in same-sex child custody dispute

A California court recently ruled on the custody dispute of a same-sex couple who adopted a Russian child. The two women, now involved in the child custody dispute, met about a decade ago, moved in together and shortly began to consider adopting a child.

Because Russia does not allow same-sex couples to adopt, one of the women applied for the adoption. But, the other woman failed to complete the official custody process because the couple later relocated to New York from California. The woman who failed to complete the custody process looked after the child while her partner worked and the couple subsequently broke up a year later.

The same woman who primarily looked after the child returned to California with the boy. The adoptive mother did not object but when the boy went to visit her a year and a half later she refused to return him and applied for guardianship. The court agreed that the woman who had provided the majority of care for the boy should have custody. The adoptive mother has appealed.

There are a couple of different types of custody arrangements that parents can pursue following a divorce or break up. Joint custody allows both parents to make decisions concerning the child's upbringing and welfare. On the other hand, sole custody rests those responsibilities with one parent. If parents are able to agree on issues of custody and visitation, they may agree to the children splitting time between parents and to making major parenting decisions together. Alternatively, they may agree that one parent should have primary, sole custody and the other parent should enjoy generous visitation rights.

If the parents are not able to reach an agreement, even with the help of attorneys or through alternative dispute resolution such as mediation, the court will make a child custody determination. In doing so, the court looks to several factors which include the best interests of the child, which parent serves as the child's primary caretaker, the relationships of the parents with the child, the child's preference and several other factors.

Child custody disputes can present many different emotions. Understanding what can sometimes be expected of the process may offer some level of comfort.

Source: Russian Legal Information Society News, "U.S. court rules on lesbian couple's Russian child custody dispute," Author Unknown, January 21, 2013.

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