A news article reported on a recent Texas district court's order that may come as a surprise to many San Diego residents, as well as to people throughout the State of California. The judge enforced a "morality clause" in a divorced couple's custody agreement that makes it illegal for the mom (who has physical custody of the children) to have anyone she is dating, or is intimate with - who is not related by blood or marriage - to stay at the home past 9:00 p.m. The mom and her lesbian partner had lived together for three years until this ruling. The court's order demands that the mom's partner move out of her home, effectively splitting the couple apart. Child custody arrangements are often complicated and fraught with high emotions and strong family ties. A local attorney can guide you through the process in a poised and effective manner, while protecting your rights under the local family code.
The ironic part of this court order is that the couple cannot even attempt to comply with the morality clause by getting married. The law in Texas prohibits same-sex marriage. The state's ban goes further and affects estate planning, medical power of attorney and parental custody. The couple divorced back in 2011, but the case was reopened recently over a dispute concerning the custody of their children.
Here, the mom and her partner had been living together for three years before the judge rendered his clarification order, disrupting the lives of the two women and the children. According to the news article referenced above, the judge in this case has made known his conservative stance and advertises his lengthy affiliation with the Republican Party. The same article quotes a senior staff attorney for Lambda Legal's Dallas office as saying, "morality clauses are rarely enforced, but can be used to target homosexual spouses."
This is a troubling decision with significant ramifications for the children. Most custody arrangements are developed with the intention of preserving the best interests of the children. Here in California, either parent can have custody of the children, or they may share custody. In the end, the judge will render the final decision about custody and visitation but usually will approve an arrangement (also known as the "parenting plan") that both parents agree to. Of course, if the parents cannot agree, the judge will make a decision at a court hearing. There are two types of child custody: 1) legal custody - the parent(s) who is responsible for making important decisions for the children, such as education, health care, and welfare; and 2) physical custody - the parent with whom the children live. The law in San Diego requires that judges must determine custody issues according to what is in the "best interest of the child."
While divorcing spouses may differ on what is in their child's best interests, an experienced, local family law attorney can help you understand how a California judge may view a custody request or an agreed-upon arrangement between spouses.