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Hawaii case draws attention to same-sex child support issues

by Associated Press / / Source: Associated Press
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Hawaii Supreme Court building in Honolulu, HawaiiGetty Images

HONOLULU — National gay rights advocates are watching how a child support fight between a divorced lesbian couple plays out in Hawaii, likely the first such case before a state Supreme Court, experts say.

A woman wants to sever her parental rights to a child her ex-wife gave birth to and is appealing a family court ruling denying that request to the Hawaii Supreme Court, which is set to hear arguments Thursday.

The couple, who are not identified in the confidential family court case, married in Washington, D.C., in 2013 and moved to Hawaii because of military orders for the woman seeking to end her parental rights.

"This is unusual in that biology is being used as a shield to evade parental obligation ... Equal rights come with equal responsibility."

Throughout the marriage, the couple talked about the possibility of having a child together, the court said. While the woman was deployed between January and September 2015, her wife got pregnant through a sperm donor. The woman filed for divorce in October 2015, and the child was born while it was pending.

The family court denied her petition because it found that Hawaii's Uniform Parentage Act and Marriage Equality Act presumes that a legal spouse of a woman who gives birth to a baby is the parent of that child, regardless of the spouse's gender.

"This is a very important and of-the-moment question in the LGBT community right now, which is how are states going to treat parents of children where there are a same-sex marriage couple," said Cathy Sakimura, family law director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which is not involved in the case.

"Are they going to give them the same kind of recognition that any other couple would get or are they going to have a different rule applied to them?" Sakimura said.

There are a handful of similar cases nationwide, but the Hawaii dispute is likely the first involving a same-sex married couple with a child support case before a state's highest court, she said.

Most same-sex parental rights cases involve a spouse who didn't give birth to a child and wants custody, Sakimura said.

"It doesn't happen that often in the same-sex parenting world, but there are few cases where they are trying to avoid child support," she said.

In such cases, conception is a key question, Sakimura said.

"Did the spouse consent to the procedure and know about it? And that is what triggers them being a parent," she said.

The case will test marriage equality, said Lambda Legal, a prominent LGBTQ-rights group that is representing the woman who gave birth.

"This is unusual in that biology is being used as a shield to evade parental obligation," Lambda Legal attorney Peter Renn said. "Equal rights come with equal responsibility."

Arguments are being held in a high school auditorium because the case is being used to teach students about courts.

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