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Fla. court settles lesbian custody battle

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a woman who donated an egg to her lesbian partner has parental rights to the child and ordered a lower court to work out custody, child support and visitation arrangements.

The case involves two women, identified only by their initials, who had a child together. One donated an egg that was fertilized and implanted in the other, who gave birth in 2004.

But two years later the Brevard County couple split up, and the birth mother took the girl and left the country. The other woman, who identifies herself as the biological mother, used a private detective to find her former partner in Australia, and a custody fight ensued.

The birth mother tried to use a Florida law that prevents sperm or egg donors from claiming parental rights to children born to other couples. Her lawyer also cited a standard form donors are required to sign relinquishing parental rights. The court rejected both arguments, saying the law doesn’t apply in this case because the couple clearly planned to parent the child together.

“The couple’s actions before and after the child’s birth — including their use of funds from their joint bank account, their statements to the reproductive doctor that they intended to raise the child as a couple, the counseling they underwent to prepare themselves for parenthood, the use of a hyphenated last name for the child, and the joint birth announcement — reveal that the couple’s agreement in actuality was to both parent the child,” the court wrote.

The decision doesn’t throw out the Florida law and it can still be applied in cases where anonymous donors provide sperm or eggs to couples.

“If you were a sperm donor, would this help you get parental rights? No, it wouldn’t,” said Elizabeth Schwartz, a Miami Beach attorney who specializes in family law and who advocates for gay and lesbian issues. “They really looked at what was intended ... The law wasn’t thrown out, it was just thoughtfully applied.”

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