Neglected Lesbian Mothers

52 Family Law Quarterly 87 (2018)

American University, WCL Research Paper No. 2019-16

36 Pages Posted: 27 Jun 2019 Last revised: 28 May 2021

See all articles by Nancy D. Polikoff

Nancy D. Polikoff

American University Washington College of Law

Date Written: 2018


Lesbian mothers who face removal of their children by the state are a constituency that scholarship and advocacy on behalf of LGBT families has largely ignored. This article addresses that deficit. First, it demonstrates the existence of such parents. A study of low-income African-American mothers found that those who identified as lesbian/bisexual were four times more likely to have lost their children to the state than those who identified as heterosexual. Other demographic data shows an overrepresentation of lesbian mothers or LGBT parents in the categories of those most at risk of child removal, including those who are poor or who experience housing or food insecurity.

The article next tackles the invisibility of this group of LGBT parents. It argues that attacks on LGBT parenting directly and in the context of marriage equality made it undesirable for advocates to acknowledge any such parents who are less than perfect. In addition, advocates often defend against attacks on LGBT foster parenting and adoption by emphasizing the number of children in state care who need permanent homes. This argument comes at the expense of acknowledging the racial and economic injustice of the child removal system that results in separating too many children from their parents, including LGBT parents.

Finally, the article describes distinctive legal issues this constituency faces, including discrimination, especially by faith-based agencies; failure to properly ascribe parentage to a nonbiological same-sex parent; and failure to include within the category of kin a partner or former partner who is not a parent. It concludes with a call for litigation, legislative and administrative advocacy, and education, and for aligning LGBT family advocacy with work on behalf of racial and economic justice.

Note: “Published in Family Law Quarterly, Volume 52, Number 1, Spring 2018. © 2019 American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.”

Keywords: family law, child custody, lesbians, LGBTQ

Suggested Citation

Polikoff, Nancy D., Neglected Lesbian Mothers (2018). 52 Family Law Quarterly 87 (2018), American University, WCL Research Paper No. 2019-16, Available at SSRN:

Nancy D. Polikoff (Contact Author)

American University Washington College of Law ( email )

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202-274-4232 (Phone)

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