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January 31, 2005

Gay Father Seeks To Lift Restrictions In Child Custody Case

From: NBC, DC - Jan 31, 2005

Court Order Forces Father's Partner To Move Out

POSTED: 10:40 pm EST January 31, 2005
UPDATED: 10:47 pm EST January 31, 2005

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- A court ruling forcing a gay father's partner to move out of the house where the father is raising his 12-year-old son "has been so negative for the child in so many ways," the father's lawyer said Monday.

"It's very upsetting to the child. He wants his father's partner to be able to move back in, and they can just resume their normal family life," said Shannon Minter, lawyer for Ulf Hedberg.

Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, filed a brief with the Court of Special Appeals Monday asking the court to dissolve a Virginia Court order prohibiting Blaise Delahoussaye from living in the house with Hedberg and his son.

"The son just misses the partner very much. He had been living with them 5½ years from about four to 9½. It's very upsetting to the child," Minter said.

In an e-mail response to The Associated Press, Hedberg, who is deaf and whose native language is Swedish, said that before Delahoussaye had to move, "We were happy and thought we would be happy like everyone who has family. Our happy life was smashed in the result of the Virginia's court ruling."

"Our son has missed Blaise very much that he cried on every night in the beginning and asked my why Blaise moved out. I struggled to find a way to explain him why this happened," the e-mail said.

According to court papers, after Hedberg and the boy's mother, Annica Detthow, separated in 1996, Delahoussaye moved in with the father and son. Three years later, the two men bought a house together and Delahoussaye played an active role in raising the boy.

But in 2000, when the mother moved to Florida, she sought custody of the boy. A judge in Alexandria, Va., awarded joint legal custody to the parents, but gave Hedberg primary physical custody with the condition that Delahoussaye move out of the house.

The two men then moved to Montgomery County and rented separate apartments. Hedberg filed suit in Montgomery County Circuit Court to dissolve the Virginia court order, but the suit was dismissed.

Detthow is opposing the move to dissolve the Virginia order, but "has no objection to the father and her son living in Maryland" and is not seeking to alter the custody judgment, Patrick Stiehm, her lawyer, said.

"She is satisfied with the way things have gone to this point. She sees no reason for making that one particular change," Stiehm said. He would not elaborate on why Detthow does not want the order prohibiting Delahoussaye living with her former husband and her son changed.

Minter said because of the additional financial burden of maintaining two households, Hedberg and Delahoussaye had to sell the Virginia house and moved to smaller apartments in Maryland.

"The father has lost the tremendous benefit of having a second person on the scene to help with chores and dinner and care taking, so he's been able to spend less time with the child," Minter said.

Two national gay rights organizations -- Lambda Legal and National Center for Lesbian Rights -- are supporting Hedberg's lawsuit.

"This child's world was turned upside down all because a Virginia court issued a knee-jerk, anti-gay custody restriction," Susan Sommer, supervising attorney at Lambda Legal, said. "He lost his home, his school, his park and most importantly the proximity of the caring adult who has helped raise him."

Minter said the lower court judge, without hearing arguments, mistakenly denied the motion to dissolve the Virginia order, saying the father had not shown any change in circumstances since the ruling in Virginia.

"We think Maryland law is very clear if a parent is alleging that an existing order is detrimental to a child, that necessarily is enough to trigger a reconsideration of the order," he said.

Minter also said a change is warranted under a 2003 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court striking down the Texas sodomy law.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.