Academic journal article Family Relations

Same-Sex Relationship Dissolution and LGB Stepfamily Formation: Perspectives of Young Adults with LGB Parents

Academic journal article Family Relations

Same-Sex Relationship Dissolution and LGB Stepfamily Formation: Perspectives of Young Adults with LGB Parents

Article excerpt

Research has increasingly focused on intentional or planned lesbian, gay, bisexual (LGB)parent families; however, how young adults in these families navigate the aftermath of parental break-up and subsequent repartnering is unexamined. This qualitative study of 20 young adults who had experienced their LGB parents ' relationship dissolution and/or the formation of an LGB stepfamily examined how young adults perceived their parents ' relational transitions and their own relationships with stepparents and siblings. Results indicated that (a) nearly all families negotiated relational transitions (e.g., relationship dissolutions) informally and without legal intervention, (b) young adults perceived both advantages and disadvantages in the ambiguity surrounding their family's nonlegal status, (c) relationships with biological mothers were the strongest tie from break-up to repartnering and stepfamily formation, (d) geographic distance from their nonbiological parents created hardships in interpersonal closeness, (e) yet, on the whole, young people perceived their families as strong and competent in handling familial transitions.

Key Words: gay, bisexual, divorce, lesbian, relationship dissolution, stepfamily.

In the past decade, research on lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) parenting has shifted from exploring family relationships and child well-being in LGB-parent families formed postheterosexual divorce to examining the experiences of intentional or planned LGBparent families (LGB parents who have or adopt children in the context of same-sex relationships; Goldberg, 2010). Given the recent nature of this shift, it is not surprising that little research has explored same-sex relationship dissolution in these families (Gartrell, Bos, Peyser, Deck, & Rodas, 2011), nor has it examined stepfamily formation and functioning post - same-sex relationship dissolution.

Research on same-sex parents' relationship dissolution is crucial, insomuch as some LGB couples who have or adopt children will ultimately break up. Yet though heterosexual couples often complete legal divorces to sever their relationships, most same-sex couples do not have access to civil marriage, and thus their relationship dissolutions-like their relationships-are not legally recognized. The absence of legal recognition may create unique challenges, and perhaps unanticipated advantages, for families. For example, lacking legal guidance, LGB parents must creatively and independently manage the details of their separation and agree on the roles and obligations of each partner to each other and to their children-a process that may be aided if both parents have formal legal ties to their children. Indeed, in some states (e.g., New York), the same-sex partner of a woman who conceived and gave birth to the couple's child can complete a second-parent adoption, which enables her to become a second legal parent of the child. But in many states, same-sex partners have not been successful in obtaining secondparent adoptions, or there are statutes limiting their use to heterosexual persons (Human Rights Campaign, 2011).

Nonbiological mothers who are not married to their partners and who have not formally adopted the children in their care have no legally enforceable rights or duties (i.e., custody, child support; Hertz, Wald, & Shuster, 2009) and are at best considered "de facto" parents in the eyes of the law (Mahoney, 2006). About one half of U.S. states recognize parentage based on parental conduct and significant bonding with the child, which should theoretically improve the nonbiological mother's standing in court. However, in the other one half of U.S. states, if no legal adoption has been completed, the biological parent is almost universally viewed as the sole legal parent (Hertz et al., 2009).

The dissolution of a same-sex relationship can therefore represent a very threatening event for de facto parents who confront the possibility that their relationship with their children may be severed should legal parents wish to assert their legal authority in this manner (Hertz et al. …

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