OMAHA, Nebraska, August 31, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – An unrelated woman can seek custody rights over an unadopted child if the petitioner once acted as co-parent during a lesbian relationship with the mother, Nebraska’s high court has ruled.
The ruling, issued on Friday, deflected to a lower court the custody dispute between Teri Latham and Susan Schwerdtfeger of Omaha, the latter of whom underwent in vitro fertilization, leading to the birth of a baby boy in January 2001. The couple, who had been together since 1985, split five years later.
Latham is arguing that, because she shared the cost in vitro fertilization and continued to make efforts to visit the boy after the split, she should be granted visitation rights. Schwerdtferger argues that Latham did not pay to help support the child, and that the child no longer wishes to have a relationship with Latham.
Last year, a district court for Douglas County allowed telephonic visits by Latham, but after hearing further arguments and interviewing Schwerdtfeger’s son, reversed the decision in July 2010, saying Latham lacked standing. Latham then appealed, and the case reached the 7-judge panel of Nebraska’s high court.
Same-sex “marriage” has not been recognized in Nebraska, and Latham, the high court noted, had not adopted the child. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court concluded that Latham’s parent-like activities with the child allowed her to pursue legal custody rights.
“A review of our jurisprudence indicates that the legislature did not intend that statutory authority be the exclusive basis of obtaining court ordered visitation,” states the ruling, which goes on to call the lower court’s assessment of Latham’s current relationship with the boy “premature.”
The court admits, however, that while they believe Latham has standing to seek visitation rights, “there remain genuine issues of material fact bearing on whether she should be granted relief and whether the relief she seeks is in the best interests” of the child.
The decision could have implications for legal parental rights in homosexual relationships across America, where state-to-state variations in same-sex union laws have caused confusion.
In 2009, Virginia mom Lisa Miller went into hiding with her daughter Isabella after a Virginia judge ordered her to give up custody of the girl her to former lesbian partner Janet Jenkins.
Miller, who gave up the homosexual lifestyle after fleeing what she called an abusive relationship, says her daughter showed signs of serious trauma from visits to Jenkins, whom the 7-year-old complained had forced the two to bathe naked together.