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Student Discusses Research on Custody Decisions involving LGBT Parents on MSNBC

Emily Haney-Caron on MSNBC

April 22, 2014

Student Emily Haney-Caron appeared on MSNBC on April 22 to discuss research she conducted on the degree to which judges are influenced by parents’ sexual orientation when making custody decisions. 

Haney-Caron, who is pursuing a JD-PhD in law and psychology, said research she completed with Professor Kirk Heilbrun revealed that judges have tended to favor heterosexual parents in custody decisions, although some are showing less bias.  

“Many judges have started to disregard sexual orientation as a factor in custody decisions,” Haney-Caron said as a guest on the NewsNation program.  “However, we’re still seeing that many courts and judges are still considering sexual orientation as a factor and are assuming that being raised by a gay or lesbian parent might not be in the best interest of the child.”  

As part of their research Haney-Caron said that she and Heilbrun also explored studies that evaluate the impact of parents’ sexual orientation on their effectiveness as parents. 

“There’s no reason to believe that gay and lesbian parents are less effective or less capable as parents than their heterosexual peers,” she said, adding that courts may not be aware of such research or may not be convinced of its accuracy or its relevance in particular cases.  

Haney-Caron and Heilbrun presented their research in March at the American Psychological Association's American Psychology-Law Society.  Their article, "Lesbian and Gay Parents and Determination of Child Custody: The Changing Legal Landscape and Implications for Policy and Practice," appeared in the journal, Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity.

Their research also garnered attention from The Guardian newspaper, and WHYY's Newsworks

“This is a prime example of the kind of work we do in the JD-PhD program,” Haney-Caron said. “It brings together two disciplines – law and psychology – and creates scholarship in the space between them.”

Heilbrun has a joint appointment at the law school and in the Department of Psychology in Drexel's College of Arts and Sciences.  He teaches Mental Health Law at the law school. 

Haney-Caron is the law liaison of the American Psychology-Law Society's Student Committee.  She is executive editor of Notes for the Drexel Law Review.