Child custody battles are always difficult, and can be ugly. But a recent Dallas child custody dispute shows the lengths that gay parents must go to fight for the right to parent their non-biological children if they split up from the child’s biological parent. In the case fought out in Dallas family law courtrooms, a Texas mother petitioned for custody of a child she had raised since birth with her lesbian partner (the child’s biological mother).

The former partner denied the non-biological parent’s right to child custody and a three-and-a-half year legal battle ensued as the non-biological mother sought to have her parental rights recognized in Texas courts. Ultimately, she was successful on the first hurdle of her child custody battle: the right to sue for child custody (referred to as standing). But after nearly four years of emotional and financial costs, and no guarantee that she would win physical or legal custody rights, the mother decided to end her legal battle. In a statement released to the press, the mother said that she chose her daughter’s quality of life and happiness over being right.

Legal Options for Gay Parents to Maintain Parental Relationships

While recognition of the status of same-sex relationships is advancing state-by-state, same-sex partners (and former partners) still face precarious legal status on many issues including recognition of marriage, civil unions, and partnerships, rights to parent children from a same-sex partnership, inheritance rights, and rights to make end-of-life decisions, among many other civil rights.

In Texas, lesbian and gay parents now have the right to sue for child custody if other Texas courts decide to follow the precedent established by the Texas appeals court in the Dallas same-sex custody case (The Texas Supreme Court denied review of the decision, which gives it more weight). But whether a gay or lesbian parent will be awarded child custody is another matter. In most cases, a gay or lesbian parent will stand on firmer ground if the mother or father adopts the child or children. Adoption gives the non-biological parent a legal recognition of their parental rights. For advice and counsel on this evolving area of the law, consult a Texas family law attorney with experience working with LGBT issues.

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Photo of Michelle O'Neil Michelle O'Neil

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes…

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes genuine compassion for her client’s difficulties, yet she can be relentless when in pursuit of a client’s goals. One judge said of Ms. O’Neil, “She cannot be out-gunned, out-briefed, or out-lawyered!”

Family Law Specialist

Ms. O’Neil became a board-certified family law specialist by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1997 and has maintained her certification since that time. While representing clients in litigation before the trial court is an important part of her practice, Ms. O’Neil also handles appellate matters in the trial court, courts of appeals and Texas Supreme Court. Lawyers frequently consult with Ms. O’Neil on their litigation cases about specialized legal issues requiring particularized attention both at the trial court and appellate levels. This gives her a unique perspective and depth of perception that benefits both her litigation and appellate clients.

Top Lawyers in Texas and America

Ms. O’Neil has been named to the list of Texas SuperLawyers for many years, 2011-2018, a peer-voted honor given to only about 5% of the lawyers in the state of Texas. In 2014-2018, Ms. O’Neil received the special honor of being named by Texas SuperLawyers as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Texas, Top 100 Lawyers in Texas, and Top 100 Lawyers in DFW. She was named one of the Best Lawyers in America for 2016 and received an “A-V” peer review rating by Martindale-Hubbell Legal Directories for the highest quality legal ability and ethical standards.

Author and Speaker

A noted author, Ms. O’Neil released her second book Basics of Texas Divorce Law in November 2010, with a second edition released in 2013, and a third edition expected in 2015.  Her first book, All About Texas Law and Kids, was published in September 2009 by Texas Lawyer Press. In 2012, Ms. O’Neil co-authored the booklets What You Need To Know About Common Law Marriage In Texas and Social Study Evaluations.  The State Bar of Texas and other providers of continuing education for attorneys frequently enlist Ms. O’Neil to provide instruction to attorneys on topics of her expertise in the family law arena.