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Broadening how 'parent' is defined

What is a parent? The dictionary can give you different definitions depending on the context in which the word is used. However, general language use of the word may differ from the legal definition. That difference can have a major impact on how courts in Texas consider and resolve child custody disputes. This may be particularly true in cases involving same-sex couples.

In what might be considered a traditional family structure, where there are two biological parents of opposite sexes, Texas law presumes that both parents have equal rights when it comes to child custody matters. However, if a same-sex marriage or union dissolves and children are involved, the law breaks things down along the lines of first parent and second parent.

As the distinction suggests, there can be a difference in rights depending on the designation one parent holds. A parent who has a biological tie to a child by virtue of either birth or genetics enjoys first parent status and possibly greater rights over a second parent in the eyes of the court.

Adoption is one way to mitigate potential problems in this regard. Another way is by changing the definition of parent for legal purposes. It can happen as a case out of New York reflects. However, it requires litigation.

Late last month an appeals court ruled that a caretaker of a child can petition for custody and visitation rights, even if they are not related to the child or even have legal conservatorship. In taking the action, the court said that a definition of parent set 25 years earlier "has become unworkable when applied to increasingly varied familial relationships."

Change may not be swift, but it can happen. So, anyone with questions about their rights should seek help from an experienced attorney.

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