ACLU Urges Tennessee Appeals Court To Protect Rights Of Lesbian Mom
Court Order Bars Divorced Mom's Partner Of 9 Years From Staying Overnight When Mom Has Custody And Visitation Of Children
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NASHVILLE – In a brief filed today, the American Civil Liberties Union is urging a Tennessee appeals court to remove a ban preventing a divorced mom from having her partner of nine years and her own children stay at her home at the same time. The trial court unconstitutionally imposed the so-called "paramour restriction" on the lesbian couple even though the psychologist who performed the custodial evaluation in the case found the partner to be a positive influence in the children's lives.
"Of course I'm willing to do anything to be able to be with my children, but this is really tearing us apart," said Angel Chandler. "It's been a huge emotional and financial drain on our family. It forces us to live apart almost every night, and it is denying my children quality time with a positive role model and person they love."
Chandler and her former spouse, Joseph Barker, have two children, a daughter, 13, and a son, 15. Since they divorced more than 10 years ago, they have shared custody of the two children over the years. They have both entered into new relationships. Chandler has been with her partner since 1999. Barker remarried approximately 5 years ago.
It was not until May 15, 2008, that the court issued the restriction barring Chandler's partner from her home any nights her children are with her. It was imposed after Chandler and Barker appeared before the Gibson County Chancery Court to modify their parenting plan. Even though a court-ordered psychological evaluation of all the parties noted that Chandler's partner was a positive influence on the children, the trial judge imposed the restriction under the erroneous belief that he was required to do so under state law.
The restriction has caused a huge strain on Chandler's relationship. Right after the order was issued, Chandler's partner was forced to move back to North Carolina, making it virtually impossible for the couple to spend time together. Eventually they both relocated to North Carolina where they now live in a duplex that allows them to abide by the order. But Chandler had to leave her job and has just recently found suitable employment. The restriction has also been harmful to Chandler's children, especially her daughter, who enjoyed spending time with her mother's partner and who looked to her for advice and guidance. Living in the duplex, the couple is also losing rental income they relied on before the court imposed the ban.
"By all accounts, this family was succeeding, having gotten through a divorce and introduced a new parent into the home. But nine years on, a Judge has done his best to destroy all that by imposing this impossible restriction," said Christine Sun, the Southeast regional senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project. "We are hopeful that the appeals court will recognize that it is unfair to tear this family apart."
The brief filed by the ACLU charges that the court was wrong to interpret state law as requiring it to impose the partner ban. The brief points out that while there is no evidence in the record to support the imposition of the restriction, there is ample evidence showing that the children were doing fine the first nine years when there were no restrictions on the children's contact with the partner. The psychological report concluded that the children had a positive parent-like relationship with the partner and that children who grow up in homes headed by same-sex couples tend to develop normal social relationships. The brief also charges that the restriction is unconstitutional. It unconstitutionally interferes with Chandler's ability to raise her children as she sees fit, and it places an impossible burden on gay and lesbian parents. The brief notes that unlike straight couples, who have the option of marrying, lesbians and gay men are barred from marrying in the state and would never be able to live with their partners under these restrictions.
"Unfortunately, this case is an all too familiar example of how unfairly lesbian and gay parents are treated in custody and visitation proceedings," said Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director of the ACLU of Tennessee. "All the children's health and welfare organizations have long recognized that lesbian and gay parents are just as capable of being good parents as straight couples and their children are just as well adjusted. We're hopeful the Tennessee courts will come to that realization too."
In addition to Sun, Chandler is being represented by Lucian Pera and Brian Faughnan of Adams and Reese, LLP, Tricia Herzfeld of the ACLU of Tennessee, and Gregory Minton. A copy of the brief filed today in the Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Western Division is available at: www.aclu.org/caseprofiles.