A gay father has been granted a Circuit Court hearing in Maryland to determine the constitutionality of a Virginia court order that forced his partner to move out of the house they shared as a condition for keeping custody of his son.
Maryland's Court of Special Appeals said the Montgomery County Circuit Court must hear evidence presented by attorneys for the father, Karl Ulf Hedberg of Rockville, before deciding on a custody agreement. The boy is 12 years old.
Hedberg's attorney, Susan Sommer of the New York-based Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund - a gay-rights organization - lauded the ruling by Maryland's second-highest court.
"This brings Mr. Hedberg back on the road to reuniting his family under one roof, and allows him to show the court why it is only hurting his son to have his long-time partner live outside of the family home," Sommer said.
According to court records, the boy lived with both parents until they split up when he was about 4 years old. In an informal custody arrangement, the child lived for about 5 1/2 years with his father and his father's partner, Blaise Delahoussaye, starting in 1996.
When Annica Detthow, the boy's mother, moved to Florida, each parent sought custody. In 2002, the Virginia judge awarded Hedberg primary physical custody - with the condition that the partner move out of the house the men had bought together.
The men sold the house. In 2003, they moved 26 miles away to Rockville, each renting an apartment. The child was in a one-income household, in an apartment instead of a house and crying because he missed Delahoussaye, Hedberg's lawyers said.
Last year, Hedberg asked the Montgomery County court to allow Delahoussaye to return while Hedberg retained custody. In January, without taking testimony from Hedberg, a Montgomery County judge refused. Hedberg appealed.
Lawyers for Detthow could not be reached yesterday. Court records state that in her deposition, Detthow said she opposed Delahoussaye's residing in the home with her son because it was a "change of environment."
Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said the decision is likely to have an impact on other gay parents who have lost custody battles because they have live-in partners.
"There are many families across the country who are living with these terrible restrictions," Minter said.