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Inside the Unique Battle Between Two Moms for Custody of Their Kids


Custody battles are always upsetting. But the case of Joy Phillips’ and Amber Berndt’s fight over their two daughters is an especially excruciating conundrum. That’s because the same-sex couple was never legally married, leaving the non-biological mother, Phillips, in limbo — struggling to secure her parental rights so that she can then defend them.

“This is a very important case,” American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) LGBT Project attorney Jay Kaplan tells Yahoo Parenting. The legal drama, currently unfolding in a Michigan court, is between the former couple, together for more than 13 years. They were married in a non-legal ceremony, wore wedding rings, and together raised their two daughters, now 10 and 7, who were given the legal last name of “Berndt-Phillips” before their moms split in Dec. 2014. “And we are going to see more of these cases in the future, because courts are going to have to deal with the effect of the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision,” Kaplan adds. “Couples who didn’t get married because they couldn’t shouldn’t be denied the rights that same sex-married couples now have.”

Phillips, 41, and Berndt, 37, weren’t able to legally marry before Berndt gave birth to their daughters via donated sperm, and whom they co-parented 50-50 even up to eight months after the moms broke up. According to court records examined by Michigan Live, each mother claims she was the primary caregiver, that the girls called both women “mom,” and that Berndt listed Phillips as the guardian of the children in her will.

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