Obtaining the federal right to same-sex marriage was a massive step toward equal civil rights for the LGBTQIA community. In fact, it may represent the biggest national win for same-sex couples to date. For many long-term couples, the right to marry and have that union recognized in any state was a massive advance.
However, with the excitement of federally-recognized same-sex marriages came the slow increase in demand for same-sex divorces. Although Washington state recognized same-sex marriages before the Supreme Court ruling on the issue, the state still has a long way to go with setting standards for same-sex divorces. Many couples, especially those with minor children, face issues and hiccups not common in different-sex marriages.
Child custody can become a confusing issue in same-sex divorce
One of the biggest issues with custody scenarios in same-sex marriages is when one spouse has a biological or legal connection to the minor children, while the other does not. It is possible that one spouse adopted the child in question prior to marriage. It is also possible for one partner in a same-sex marriage to carry the couple's children or to father a child raised in the marriage. Unless the other spouse legally adopts the child, custody issues may be complex.
If the child came after your marriage, there is a presumption of parenthood, regardless of biological connection. That means the courts will recognize the claim of both spouses to have visitation and an obligation to support the child. For parents who did not adopt the child, were not married at the time of the child's birth and have no biological link to the child, establishing rights is more difficult.
Not all family comes from genetic connection
Thankfully, the courts in Washington already acknowledge that not all families come from blood ties. It is possible, in some cases, to demonstrate to the courts that a non-related caregiver, such as the spouse of a parent, has acted as a "de facto" parent. You need to show that you have had a parent-like relationship to the child, which was encouraged by the child's legal parent. Living with, caring for and supporting the child and taking a committed parental role in the life of the child can also help establish you as a parental figure for the child.
The courts in Washington and around the country are still learning how to best handle these often complex cases of child custody issues. Ideally, both spouses agree that sharing responsibilities and an ongoing relationship with the child is the best path. Sometimes, however, the courts will end up deciding custody in same-sex divorces. When that happens, it's important to inform yourself about the outcome of cases with similar circumstances.