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Different state laws may affect rights of unwed couples

Determining child custody between parents can be a tricky matter. But the issue may be even more complicated with unmarried couples. Michigan laws are starting to change with the times in regard to the rights of unmarried parents. Our state recognizes that it benefits children and the family dynamic when both parents remain in the picture. But not all states have this forward-thinking approach, and different state laws become an issue when custodial parents move to different states.

One father is worried about losing his parental rights to his 9-year-old son because the boy's other custodial father recently moved to Georgia. The former couple adopted their son together in 2004 in New Jersey, and when they separated in 2010, they maintained joint custody. When one father moved to New York, the court granted him residential custody, and now he has requested that a court allow him and his son to move to Georgia.

The residential custodial father apparently found a job in Georgia, but the New Jersey father is worried that he will not be able to visit his son in Georgia with a New Jersey court order because Georgia does not recognize same-sex adoption.

A judge in New Jersey signed off on the move to Georgia and held that both fathers will continue to have joint legal custody. Generally, the "full faith and credit" clause of the U.S. Constitution means that others states, like Georgia, will follow this court order. But the New Jersey father is worried because "full faith and credit" does not necessarily apply to the right of unwed parents.

Courts look to the best interest of the child when it comes to custody matters. But some states may take into consideration the marital status of the parents and whether they are a same-sex or heterosexual couple. It is this disparity in the factors used to determine the best interests that might affect the New Jerseys father's rights in Georgia.

If the Georgia father refuses to let his ex-partner see their son, then the New Jersey father may have to petition for a separate court order in Georgia that acknowledges he is also a father of the boy.

Source: NorthJersey.com, "Gay father fearful of losing son to 'hostile state' as judge OKs ex-partner's move to Ga.," Kibret Markos, Aug. 10, 2012

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