James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center

Monday, November 16, 2009

Change and American Family Law

The absence of laws regarding non-traditional couples and families has proved to be both a conundrum for judges and the source of much courtroom confusion. At times, the existence of this vast gray area, can lead to tragedy as in the case of Lisa Pond, Janice Langhbehn and their children. On a vacation to Florida, Pond sufferered an aneurysm. Her partner of 18 years and the children they raised together were denied access to her bedside as she lay dying. A hospital social worker told Langbehn point blank, as she denied her request, that the family were now in "an antigay city and state." By the time Langbehn and her daughter gained admission to her room Lisa Pond had lost consciousness. This past September Langbehn's lawsuit was dismissed by federal court.

The case of Sharon Reed and Jo Ann Ritchie was quite similar. Reed was barred from her partner, Ritchie's intensive care unit for extended periods of time preceding Ritchie's death. The two women had been together for 17 years.

To help explain, clarify and prevent these incidents from ocurring in the future Kimberly D. Richman has written, Courting Change: Queer Parents, Judges, and the Transformation of American Family Law. Her goal is to shed light on the "indeterminate and discretionary area of American Law," that encompasses issues surrounding partnership, parenting, child custody and visitation rights, to name but a few. Her book provides insight into the rationale behind court decisions and ways the law can be re-interpreted and changed to better meet the needs of the diverse families of the 21st century.

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