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Same-sex custody dispute takes material twist in state on appeal

Given that a family law case in another state has been described as "unprecedented" and is reportedly the first of its type to work its way through the courts, readers in Colorado and elsewhere might be interested to hear the details.

The matter involves a same-sex female couple and their child custody dispute focused upon a child that one of them bore via surrogacy in Nevada in 2008. That woman, Sha'Kayla St. Mary, carried the child to term after being implanted with an egg received from her partner, Veronica Lynn Damon, that was fertilized by an anonymous donor.

Before having the child, the couple executed a parenting agreement. Although that document listed both women as parents, it designated Damon as the biological mother.

The couple later terminated their relationship. When St. Mary sought custody rights, a judge from the Clark County District Court ruled that she was not entitled to them as a parent, being only a surrogate. Following that ruling, the court granted Damon's request to move to another state with the child.

St. Mary persisted in her quest for visitation and custody, with her case taking a material turn just last week following a ruling issued by the Nevada Supreme Court on appeal. That court overturned the lower court's decision, sending the case back for further deliberations.

The justices ruled that it was a mistake to find that St. Mary lacked parental rights without having a hearing to consider evidence on the matter. The court additionally disagreed with the lower court ruling that the parenting agreement executed between St. Mary and Damon was unlawful.

The understanding between the two women, stated the court, "must not be deemed unenforceable on the basis of the parents being of the same sex."

St. Mary's attorney will seek an order requiring the child to be returned to Nevada.

Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal, "Surrogate mother can argue for parental rights, Nevada Supreme Court rules," Sean Whaley, Oct. 3, 2013

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