Same-sex parents – what happens after separation?

Posted on February 20, 2012

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Sociologist Luke Gahan has began a groundbreaking study exploring the experiences of same-sex parents who have children together and later break up.

‘Same-sex parents face many unique challenges both on their way to parenthood and then once they have their children,’ says PhD candidate Mr Gahan.

‘Same-sex couples and parents are not immune from separation, yet so often their unique experiences are not heard or understood.’

While there is much focus on same-sex relationship recognition and equal parenting rights, he says little time is spent looking at the issues faced by same-sex parents and their families after their relationship comes to an end.

‘Campaigns for same-sex marriage and parenting rights often focus on happy couple stories in their effort to show same-sex relationships to be worthy of marriage or having children. Subsequently separated parents may feel stigmatised and embarrassed and refrain from sharing their unique experiences,’ says Mr Gahan.

Are the legal processes working?

Same-sex parents have historically not had equal recognition as separated co-parents, and in some instances they still do not.

‘Legal changes have ensured same-sex couples are treated in a similar way to heterosexual couples in the family court system. Yet there has been no research on whether these legal processes are working for, or appropriate for, same-sex couples.

‘This is important because even in places where laws protect both same-sex parents, culture and attitudes often lag behind – leaving some same-sex parents vulnerable or unrecognised as a parent before and after separation,’ says Mr Gahan.

The diversity of same-sex parented families has been highlighted through modern television dramas like ‘Brothers and Sisters’ or ‘Greys Anatomy’, as well as the hit comedy ‘Modern Family’. The diversity of same-sex families can make separation even more complex.

Co-parenting over many  households

‘Some families begin with two mums and two dads. If either of these couples break up, the entire family unit experiences separation. Co-parenting may be end up being shared over three or four households and parents may form new relationships potentially adding more parents into the family,’ says Mr Gahan.

Researchers are interested in experiences of same-sex parents after separation and hope to give a voice to a group of people often left feeling marginalised. Participants must have had at least one child while within a same-sex relationship which has now ended. They do not necessarily have to still be parenting or have custody of their child.

Luke Gahan is located at the La Trobe University’s Bouverie Centre – Victoria’s Family Institute – and will be conducting interviews with separated parents in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

If you would like to be a part of the study and share your experiences you can contact him on (03) 9385 5137 or l.gahan@latrobe.edu.au