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SCOTUS gay marriage ruling raises questions for gay couples

New Jersey residents likely know that laws in several states that made same-sex marriage illegal were ruled unconstitutional by a landmark majority decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2015. While the ruling allows same-sex couples across the country to now marry legally, it has also raised questions about the status of cohabiting gay couples who wanted to get married but had previously been prevented from doing so. One such case involves two Michigan women involved in a bitter child custody dispute.

According to media reports, the 41-year-old and 37-year-old women lived together for 13 years and even took part in a non-legal wedding ceremony. They also had two daughters using donated sperm. Both of the women performed parenting duties, and the two girls used hyphenated last names. However, matters became contentious when the couple split in December 2014. The woman with biological ties to the girls believes that her former partner has no right to custody even though she named her as the guardian of the children in her will.

The family court judge that will be hearing arguments in the case is aware that she will be entering uncharted legal waters muddied by the Supreme Court decision. A New York judge ruled against awarding child custody to an unmarried gay parent in 2014, but that was before the nation's highest court struck down laws that prohibited same-sex couples from marrying.

Discussions over matters such as child custody and spousal support can be extremely contentious, and spouses or parents sometimes find themselves so entrenched in their positions that an amicable settlement becomes unlikely. Experienced family law attorneys will likely have encountered such situations, and they may recommend proactive steps to prevent bitter disputes and avoid the uncertainties of a protracted legal battle.

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