Child custody cases that result from same-sex or domestic partnerships are new territory from a family law perspective. Same-sex couples in Texas who have contentious custody cases that cannot be resolved through a settlement must work through the court system and abide by whatever the court decides. With that in mind, Texans may be interested in a recent court decision that could have implications for same-sex couples in our state and throughout the country.
On Aug. 14, a Vermont jury returned a guilty verdict for an Amish-Mennonite pastor who had been charged with abetting international kidnapping. The conviction is related to charges that he helped a mother and her young daughter flee the United States to avoid allowing the girl’s other parent, also a woman, to have court-ordered visitation.
The biological mother of the girl and the other woman had been in a civil union when the child was born, and the court has recognized both women as the legal parents. In 2003, the biological mother moved to Virginia with her daughter and attempted to prevent her ex-partner from exercising any of her parental rights. When a family court judge in Vermont threatened to transfer custody to the ex-partner in 2009, the biological mother apparently enlisted the help of the pastor.
Though kidnapping charges are criminal in nature and are not heard in family court, they can have a great impact on family law cases. Judges can use criminal convictions when making custody and visitation decisions. In this case, the mother will likely face kidnapping charges when she is found. She and her 10-year-old daughter are believed to be in Nicaragua.
The conviction of the pastor on these charges shows that litigants in custody cases must respect the court’s decision, even if the parent or some other party disagrees with the decision. Outside parties who interfere with the parental rights of same-sex couples may be subject to criminal charges, and those charges can also affect the outcome of family law cases.
Source:</strong< The New York Times, “Sect Pastor Is Convicted of Assisting in Abduction,” Erik Eckholm, Aug. 14, 2012