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Standards for LGBT Families

1. Support the Rights of LGBT Parents

Our children deserve to be loved, and our families deserve to be protected. We must respect LGBT families and our children’s relationships with their parents. Even through the dissolution of our families, we must protect the best interests of our children and show respect for LGBT families.

2. Honor Existing Relationships Regardless of Legal Labels

Recognize and affirm the actual relationships between the parents and the children. You should sign written agreements and, where possible, establish legal protections of parental relationships. Regardless of whether you have taken these steps, agreements to share parenting or allow an important relationship to develop with another parent or significant adult should control, whether those agreements are written or not.

3. Honor the Children’s Existing Parental Relationships After a Break-Up

The well-being of our children depends on the continuity of their relationships with the significant adults in their lives. Abrupt termination of such relationships is damaging. Sustaining these relationships should be the primary goal of the resolution of any custody dispute.

4. Maintain Continuity For the Children

Parents who are separating should start with the presumption that an arrangement which most closely resembles the children’s relationships with the people they regard as parents is best, taking into account, of course, whether there has been any abuse or neglect that interferes with a person’s ability to parent. All parents should continue to provide financial support for the children.

5. Seek a Voluntary Resolution

Using mediation will reduce the conflict and disruption that the children face. If the parents are at an impasse, consider retaining the services of a mediator knowledgeable about LGBT families who can help the parents reach an agreement.

If possible, have the agreement confirmed by a court. A court order approving the parents’ agreement and setting out a custody or visitation arrangement is the best solution.

6. Remember That Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

The end of a relationship is difficult and disruptive. Parents should avoid impulsive and expedient decisions which are likely to be harmful to the children. Seek professional assistance to help determine what will be best for the children.

7. Investigate Allegations Of Abuse

Abusive relationships can and sometimes do occur in LGBT families. Allegations of abuse, whether true or false, have a serious impact on everyone in the family and should be carefully assessed. If abuse has occurred, seek assistance from domestic violence services and tell your attorney about the situation.

False allegations of abuse can and do occur and threaten to disrupt the children’s relationship with their parents. Do not use false allegations of abuse as a tool to get an edge in the custody dispute.

Attorneys must explore allegations of abuse in order to determine whether abuse has actually occurred and, if it has, to determine an appropriate parenting plan.

8. The Absence of Agreements or Legal Relationships Should Not Determine Outcome

Whether or not legal steps have been taken should not be the only determining factor. Legal protections, in fact, are not available in many states. What matters is how the adults have viewed their relationships with their children over time. Respect for the children’s relationships with the adults they view as parents is paramount.

9. Treat Litigation as a Last Resort

Litigation is the kind of winner-takes-all approach that can destroy existing relationships and undermine the trust needed to share parenting responsibilities. It is also costly and time consuming and, because court proceedings are usually open to the public, compromises the family’s privacy. Equally important, however, is that litigation can establish bad legal precedent and thereby institutionalize disrespect for LGBT families.

10. Refuse to Resort to Homophobic/Transphobic Laws and Sentiments

It is wrong and unethical for parents or lawyers to take advantage of anti-LGBT laws. Do not resort to arguments that a person who is not a “legal” parent has no right to seek custody or visitation. The stress or angst over the end of a relationship can sometimes stir the flames of internalized homophobia or transphobia. A parent’s own anti-LGBT sentiments can have a negative impact on the children and should be confronted. The best interests of the children should control decisions concerning custody and visitation.

No one should reveal, or threaten to reveal, the sexual orientation or transgender status of an opposing parent in an attempt to harass or intimidate the other parent.