Academic journal article Family Relations

Family Characteristics, Custody Arrangements, and Adolescent Psychological Well-Being after Lesbian Mothers Break Up

Academic journal article Family Relations

Family Characteristics, Custody Arrangements, and Adolescent Psychological Well-Being after Lesbian Mothers Break Up

Article excerpt

As part of the largest, longest running prospective American study of same-sex parent families, the present investigation examined relationship dissolution in planned lesbian families. Data were collected from 40 separated couples and their 17-year-old adolescent offspring-19 girls and 21 boys. Nearly all breakups occurred before the former couples could have obtained the legal equivalent of same-sex marriage in their state of residence. A majority of the mothers rated the communication with their ex-partners as cordial. Seventy-one percent of separated mothers were sharing custody, and they were more likely to do so if the comother had legally adopted the index offspring. There were no differences in adolescent psychological well-being associated with coparent adoption or shared custody. The percentage of adolescents who reported closeness to both mothers was significantly higher in families with coparent adoption.

Key Words: coparent adoption, lesbian families, parental separation, relationship dissolution, same-sex parents, sexual orientation.

In same-sex parent families, inequities in the parents' legal jurisdiction over their children can complicate the custody arrangements if the parents break up (Allen, 2007; Gartrell, Rodas, Deck, Peyser, & Banks, 2006; Goldberg, 2010). Relationship dissolution rarely brings out the best in anyone, particularly when child custody is involved. If one parent has legal guardianship of the children and the other has not legally adopted them (via coparent or second-parent adoption in jurisdictions where this is allowed), the nonlegal coparent may be at risk of losing access to the children after the parents separate (Gartrell et al., 2006; Goldberg, 2010). The consequences for those involved can be devastating (Allen, 2007).

Despite the increased visibility and legalization of same-sex relationships, empirical research on breakups in same-sex-parented households is limited (Oswald & Clausell, 2006). Analyses based on the 2008 American Community Survey and the 2000 U.S. Census revealed that there are an estimated 564,743 same-sex couples in the United States, and that among these, roughly 30% of lesbian couples and 17% of gay couples are rearing children (Badge«, 2009; Gates, 2009; Gates & Badgett, 2007). Whereas marriage has traditionally marked the starting point of heterosexual family formation and divorce its end point, in lesbian- and gay-parent households that were constituted before the couples could enter into domestic partnerships, civil unions, or marriage, the beginnings and endings of relationships have been defined differently from couple to couple (Goldberg, 2010). For some, anniversaries have been celebrated on the day of their first sexual encounter; for others, it may be the day the couple held a commitment ceremony or began living together (Oswald & Clausell, 2006). As the legal landscape has evolved, many couples have expanded their celebrations to commemorate their domestic partnership, civil union, or marriage (Badgett, 2009). The defining points of relationship termination for same-sex parents can be equally varied, ranging from the time when sexual intimacies cease to the day the parents take up separate residences. This lack of an institutional construct by which same-sex family formation, progression, or dissolution can be measured compounds the difficulty of reporting on families in which the parents have broken up (Goldberg, 2010; Oswald & Clausell, 2006).

Numerous studies have explored the challenges of rearing children in a culture that is not fully accepting of lesbian and gay families (Bergman, Rubio, Green, & Padrón, 2010; Gartrell et al., 1999, 2000, 2006; Goldberg, 2010; Golombok et al., 2003; Julien, Jouvin, Jodoin, l'Archevêque, & Chartrand, 2008; Oswald & Clausell, 2006; Short, 2007; Tasker, 2005). The adverse effects of homophobic discrimination may be mitigated for some same-sex couples through various psychological and social factors such as parental role competency, stronger family ties, and social network expansion (Bartlett, 2004; Julien et al. …

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