Maryland Court Overturns Order Prohibiting Father From Residing With Life Partner

(Rockville, MD, March 27, 2006) — On Monday, March 27, 2006, a Maryland trial court lifted a custody restriction prohibiting gay father, Ulf Hedberg, from residing with his life partner, Blaise Delahoussaye. The court ruled that the restriction, which was imposed by a Virginia court, was harmful to Hedberg’s 13 year-old son. The judge found that the child did not understand why his stepparent was forced to move out of the family home and was upset and saddened by his absence. Hedberg is represented by Susan Silber of Silber & Perlman, as well as Scott B. Wilkens and Duane Pozza of Jenner & Block LLP.

“This is an important ruling which acknowledges the best interest of the child. The Virginia custody order restricting the couple’s shared residence did not benefit the child, but instead harmed him,” said Silber. “Mr. Hedberg is a devoted parent who has done a tremendous job raising his son. We are pleased to reunite this loving family.” The judge found that Delahoussaye, the father’s partner, was a well-respected leader in the deaf/blind community, and a fit stepparent. The judge found no evidence of any harm to the child that would be caused by Delahoussaye moving back into the family home.

Hedberg and his former wife, residents of Virginia at the time, separated when their son was four years old. For the next five-and-a-half years, the child lived with Hedberg and Delahoussaye in a suburban Virginia home the couple had purchased together. Their home had a spacious back yard and was in a neighborhood with many other children and a good school. Together, the two men provided a stable loving home.

When the boy’s mother decided to move to Florida, she petitioned for custody. A Virginia court issued an order giving Hedberg physical custody but requiring Delahoussaye to move out of the family’s home. In order to maintain two separate residences, Hedberg and Delahoussaye were forced to sell their home, and Hedberg and his son moved to a small rented apartment in Maryland with no back yard, few children, and further away from the child’s school. The restriction caused other difficulties as well. For example, Delahoussaye, who is an accountant, had helped the child with his math homework when they lived together. When Delahoussaye could not live in the family home, Hedberg had to hire a tutor to help his son in math.

In Maryland, Hedberg filed a petition to remove the custody restriction on the grounds that it had diminished the child’s quality of life and deprived him of a stable two-parent home. A Maryland trial court initially denied Hedberg’s request, holding that it had no authority to modify the order. In June 13, 2005, however, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals reversed and remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing on whether removing the restriction was in the child’s best interest. Silber, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Lambda Legal represented Hedberg in the appeal. Yesterday’s ruling came at the close of an evidentiary hearing in which Hedberg presented extensive evidence about the negative impact of the restriction on his son and the child’s positive relationship with Delahoussaye.

While Virginia is one of a few states that permit courts to restrict a gay parent’s custody simply because the parent is gay, Maryland does not. Such restrictions are often harmful to the children involved, especially when the child has been living in a stable stepparent situation with a parent and the parent’s partner.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.