OMAHA -- The Nebraska Supreme Court issued a decision Friday that clarifies the custody rights of same-sex couples in Nebraska.
The court ruled that a lesbian woman could pursue custody and visitation after her relationship ended with the child's biological mother.
The ruling will send the dispute between Teri Latham and Susan Schwerdtfeger of Omaha back to a lower court for hearings about whether Latham should be granted visitation rights.
The two lived together as a couple for more than 15 years before having a son together in 2001. The two women chose a sperm donor and shared the cost of the fertility treatments for Schwerdtfeger. Both sides agreed Latham acted as the boy's mother for the first several years of his life before the relationship ended in 2006.
"The relationship between Latham and Schwerdtfeger, however, is not the deciding factor," the court said in its ruling. "The record is clear that Schwerdtfeger consented to Latham's performance of parental duties. Schwerdtfeger encouraged Latham to assume the status of a parent."
Latham's attorney, Tyler Block, said the ruling would be important for same-sex couples as well as for other non-married couples in which someone who is not a biological parent acts as a parent.
"They got it exactly right," Block said. "They applied Nebraska law and helped give clarification on how it applies in these particular situations."
Schwerdtfeger's attorney, Angela Tiritilli, said her client was disappointed with the ruling because it likely would mean several more years of court proceedings. But Tiritilli said the ruling should help clarify parental rights in the state.
"What we're seeing here is a good trend: The court is not simply dismissing same-sex parental rights," Tiritilli said.