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In continuing the trend toward treating same-sex partners who aren’t biological parents on par with biological parents, the Pennsylvania Superior Court has upheld the awarding of joint legal and partial physical custody of twin boys to a mother’s former lesbian partner. In affirming the Bucks County, Pa., trial court, the unanimous Superior Court panel in a memorandum opinion said shared custody was in the best interests of the children because, in part, the co-parent had formed an emotional bond with the children. “In the words of the trial court, ‘Prior to separation, the boys saw co-parent every day. We determined that it was in the best interest of the boys to maintain regular and significant contact with co-parent,’” the Superior Court wrote in E.J. v. P.J. “After close review of the record, we find no reason to disturb this determination.” The court noted that the co-parent’s standing was undisputed. E.J. is the biological mother of the twin boys. E.J. and P.J. lived together in a romantic relationship for 14 years before separating in January 2001. P.J. had attempted to get pregnant but was unsuccessful. E.J. gave birth to the twins in December 1996. E.J. and P.J. lived together as a family in New Hope, Pa., and were listed as the parents when the children were baptized. According to trial testimony, the children referred to the women as “Mama El” and “Mama Dee.” P.J. filed for custody in December 2000. After a hearing, the trial court awarded joint legal custody. E.J. was awarded primary physical custody, and P.J. would take care of the children every other weekend and every Tuesday overnight. E.J. appealed the custody award. E.J. argued that the couple did not make a joint effort to raise a family together and that P.J. acted as “only a babysitter or helper.” The trial court, however, rejected E.J.’s argument. The Superior Court examined the evidence presented at the trial hearing. “The evidence introduced in the present case amply establishes that, prior to separation, co-parent was involved in medical, religious and educational decisions regarding the twins’ welfare,” the court wrote. “While the parties acknowledged that they had considered, but did not execute, a co-parenting agreement, mother did acknowledge that she signed a guardianship agreement, which permitted co-parent to authorize medical treatment for the boys.” The court said the mother also acknowledged that P.J. had listed the boys on her medical and dental insurance plans. Both women also participated in therapy sessions when one of the boys was dealing with aggression issues. The court also said that the trial court deduced that the disputes the women have had over the children’s personal items and college funds do not demonstrate their inability to act in the best interest of the boys regarding major decisions concerning physical, educational and religious well-being. E.J. argued that the trial court relied solely on the fact that P.J. had formed an emotional bond with the children, when case law precludes a custody award on that factor alone. The Superior Court disagreed with E.J. “Initially, while mother is correct in noting that the trial court relied upon the emotional bonding between the boys and co-parent, we have already determined that this conclusion is well supported by the record evidence,” the court wrote. “In addition to this bonding, however, the court cited the fact that the parties live within relatively close proximity in Bucks County as an additional reason why the partial physical custody granted co-parent was appropriate and in the twins’ best interest.” The court said it could find no reason to disturb the trial court’s ruling. The panel consisted of Judges Joseph A. Hudock, William F. Cercone and John P. Hester. Doylestown, Pa., attorney MaryBeth McCabe represented E.J. Southamptom, Pa., attorney Richard I. Moore represented P.J.

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