Rights of Gay Parent Head to Trial in Dallas County, Texas

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Texas Supreme Court returns custody case between lesbian parent and partner to Dallas district court for trial.

Michelle May O'Neil, Dallas Family Law Attorney

"Our fight is not finished, but only beginning," said Michelle May O'Neil, Dallas family law attorney for lesbian partner.

The rights of a lesbian partner to participate in parenting her former partner’s child will be set for trial in the 302nd Judicial District Court of Dallas County, Texas. After the Texas Supreme Court declined to hear the biological parent’s appeal challenging the partner’s right to sue for access to the child, the Dallas Court of Appeals returned the case to the trial court. [See Dallas Court of Appeals cause number 05-08-00568-CV, In re M.K.S.-V., 301 S.W.3d 460 (Tex. App. -- Dallas 2009, pet. denied), opinion attached.]

Kristie Vowels and Tracy Scourfield were a couple for more than four years and decided together to have a child, conceived by Scourfield by artificial insemination. A year after the child’s birth, the couple broke up and Scourfield moved out of Vowels’ home with the child. Vowels continued to have contact with the child by agreement on a schedule similar to that of divorced heterosexual parents. Following a disagreement between Scourfield and Vowels, Scourfield denied Vowels access to the child, resulting in Vowels filing suit for court-ordered access to the child.

A three-judge panel of the Dallas Court of Appeal issued a controversial ruling in December 2009 that Vowels had the right to seek access to the child based on a law that provides a person with the right to sue for such rights after she has had actual care, control and possession of the child for at least 90-days prior to filing the suit. Vowels’ access by agreement with Scourfield was deemed to be sufficient to meet the requirements of the statute.

Scourfield sought to have the Texas Supreme Court overturn the decision of the Dallas Court of Appeals. The Texas Supreme Court declined to hear the case on May 28, 2010. Scourfield had a certain timeframe following the Texas Supreme Court’s denial to request reconsideration of that ruling. Because she did not, the Texas Supreme Court sent the case back to the Dallas Court of Appeals which, in turn, returned the case to the Dallas district court for trial.

“Our fight is not finished, but only beginning,” said Michelle May O’Neil, Dallas family law attorney representing Vowels. “We have to return to the district court and show the judge why it is in the best interest of the child that Ms. Vowels have access to the child.”

“I have been waiting for so long just to get someone to listen to why I should be involved in my child’s life,” said Vowels. “I’m just grateful that, after so long, I will finally be given that chance.”

The trial will be held in front of Judge Tena Callahan, who ruled in October of 2009 that two gay men, legally married in Massachusets in 2006, had the right to seek divorce in a Texas court. That case remains pending on appeal.

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Michelle May O'neil
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