Thursday, November 21, 2013

Arkansas Supreme Court overturns blanket ban on cohabitation in custody cases, easing visitation rules for gay parent

Posted By on Thu, Nov 21, 2013 at 4:04 PM

The Arkansas Supreme Court today ended the "blanket ban" on unmarried cohabitation in child-custody cases. 

The case was brought by John Moix, challenging an order by Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce pertaining to visitation by his 12-year-old son. Moix, divorced from his wife Libby in 2004, has been in a committed relationship with a male partner, Chad Cornelius, since 2007. Pierce said that Cornelius could not be present during overnight  visits by Moix's son because Arkansas law prevents unmarried cohabitation in the presence of a minor child. But Arkansas law and Constitution prevent Moix from marrying his partner. Pierce said he found no danger to the child from the presence of the partner and found Moix suitable for expanded visitation, but was bound by the law. (More background on the case here). 

In today’s decision, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that there is no “blanket ban” against cohabitation and that any restriction on visitation should be based on the circumstances of each particular case and the best interests of the children. Moix's case will now go back to the trial court to make that assessment. 

From the ACLU of Arkansas' press release

The Arkansas Supreme Court today reversed a lower court child custody order that prohibited a parent from having overnight visitation with his child in the presence of his long-term domestic partner. The ruling ends a widespread practice in Arkansas custody cases of courts automatically barring parents from living with an unmarried partner regardless of the circumstances.

A Pulaski County judge had ordered that it was in the child’s best interest to have overnight visitation with his father, John Moix. However, Moix’s partner was barred from being present in their home during any overnight visitation. The judge imposed this restriction despite determining that the father and his partner have lived together in a committed relationship for at least five years and that the partner poses no threat to the health, safety, or welfare of Moix’s son.

Today's ruling obviously impacts parents with same-sex partners in situations like Moix's, but the end of the blanket ban also impacts heterosexual, unmarried couples. The decision comes two years after the Arkansas Supreme Court struck down a state law banning foster care and adoption by cohabiting couples without regard to individual circumstances.

Here's more from ThinkProgress:

It...represents an important precedent that will allow courts to determine what’s best for children on a case-by-case basis, sparing same-sex couples from always being discriminated against in such circumstances.

Moix and Cornelius have indicated interest in traveling to Iowa to marry, but their circumstances would not change in this case because the Arkansas constitution would prohibit recognition of that union.

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