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Parents' fight over custody raises women's rights question

An ongoing court battle between parents, each fighting for custody of their son, is stretching from California to the East Coast. With facts involved that may affect future family law, this child custody dispute is raising questions about the rights of women who are pregnant.

A short-lived relationship between the celebrity father and the former Marine mother resulted in pregnancy. At about seven months pregnant, the now 27-year-old left California to attend Columbia University with her G.I. Bill benefits. Reportedly, she was accused by the baby's father of doing so to involve a more sympathetic court in the custody issues that lay ahead. The court agreed with the father, further accusing the mother of absconding with the fetus. A California court then granted custody of their son, born in February of this year, to his father.

A appeals court in New York concluded that the mother's basic rights had been violated, and that a presumed father does not have the right or ability to restrict the constitutionally protected liberty of a pregnant woman. They also found New York jurisdiction proper. According to reports, women's rights advocates fear the original ruling could create an influx of court cases attempting to restrain women from living their lives because they are pregnant.

Reportedly, once the firefighting job became too strenuous, the decision to attend Columbia was made because of their program's support for a new parent. Once the now-married father picked up his son early in September, her attorney reports she has only seen him for a total of 10 days. Visitation rights and the temporary custody ruling will be revisited at a hearing in New York Family Court.

The emotional upheaval for parents embroiled in a custody dispute is very real, and it can affect navigating through the legal issues involved. Understanding as much as possible what the court requires in determining the best interests of the child is an important step towards a favorable outcome.

Source: The New York Times, "Custody Battle Raises Questions About the Rights of Women" Erik Eckholm, Nov. 23, 2013

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