Friday, November 12, 2010

Lesbian mother vs. convicted murderer father is the subject of an upcoming documentary

I spend a lot of time writing about gay couples having children and their ensuing legal issues. But I never forget about the gay and lesbian parents who defend their right to their children against heterosexual ex-spouses or other relatives. Filmmakers are preparing a documentary about one such case, Ward v. Ward, decided in Florida in the mid-1990's. Mary Ward lost custody of her 12-yr-old daughter to her ex-husband, who had murdered his first wife. John Ward was remarried, and he and his wife charged that the child had been exposed to improper influences in her mother's home.

You can watch a trailer for the movie, Unfit. The filmmakers are seeking funding to get the movie finished. National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendell will appear at a fundraiser for the film in Miami Beach next week.

These gay vs straight custody disputes are not ancient history; they continue today. Lesbian mothers still lose. But they also win. Even in conservative states, there are judges who will not modify custody or visitation rights based on a parent's sexual orientation. We tend not to hear about most cases, because they aren't appealed. Even though a win for one lesbian mom or gay dad could be a huge boost to the morale of another parent fighting for custody, the parent who has won at the trial level is unlikely to want to publicize that victory and risk having the publicity used to claim s/he is not acting in the child's best interests. The key for any parent facing such a custody challenge is finding a lawyer who knows this area of law or is willing to be guided by the experts at the National Center for Lesbian Rights.