Does Parental Sexual Behavior Influence “Parental Fitness” and Child Custody Determinations?
The University of Maryland McNair Scholars Undergraduate Research Journal, Vol. 3, 2011: 161-169.
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Family Law typically promotes a nuclear family model and rules against parents who exhibit alternative sexual practices. The family court system uses the “best interest of the child” standard to guide custody decisions but the standard is vague so judges may consider nearly any kind of evidence or insert personal biases. This study examines the relationship between parental sexuality and child custody determinations, and specifically focuses on homosexual and sex worker parents. The courts and legislation have a tendency to rule against gay and lesbian parents in custody cases because there is fear that the children will grow up to be homosexual or experience social stigma. Sex worker mothers are at risk of losing their children to the State because there is concern that the children will lack morals and decency. Studies show virtually no difference between the children of homosexual parents or legal sex worker parents compared to normative heterosexual parents, so the arguments used to limit parental involvement in custody cases often lack merit. The current legislation and custody process does not solely focus on the best interests of the children involved, but instead impose moral biases and stereotypes on parents’ lifestyles. The study explores previous research and cases to examine the patterns concerning child custody and non-nuclear family models. The study will follow a mixed-methods approach to measure social workers’ attitudes and approaches to child custody decisions, and will also document sex worker parents’ experiences and difficulties regarding their occupations as sex workers and roles as parents.