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Questions & Answers: Legal Questions/Custody Battle


I am living with a partner who is HIV+. I am not, but I have 4 kids and my soon-to-be ex-husband is fighting for custody using her status with the virus as a health threat to the kids. Is this true? Are they at risk? We use all precautions with each other but can't understand how she could transmit this to the kids. Please let me know if there is a problem. If you don't think there is a problem, do you know of someone who can give sworn testimony in court in our behalf?

-- Parent, Georgia USA (March 9, 2000)


From a health standpoint there really is nothing to worry about in terms of transmission risk to the children (presuming no sexual abuse, of course). The virus that causes HIV is actually quite fragile and does not survive well outside the human body; so, it cannot be transmitted by sharing plates, etc. It is recommended that positive individuals not allow others to use their toothbrushes, razors, etc. The reason is that blood could inadvertently get on the toothbrush (if one's gums bleed or from an open sore in the mouth) and be transmitted to someone else if they happen to have a cut or abrasion in the mouth. The reasoning is similar for razors. In fact, the health hazards go in the opposite direction. Positive individuals, because their immune systems are suppressed, are at risk for serious infection from ordinary illnesses that most people can fight off quite easily. If, for example, one of the children is exposed to chicken pox at school, the positive individual should contact their physician regarding this exposure because she may need extra medicine to avoid developing a serious form of chicken pox or shingles.

To summarize the methods of transmission:

  1. Blood to blood via sharing drug needles.

  2. Sexual transmission: vaginal, anal, or oral (unusual but not impossible).

  3. Mother to child during pregnancy or at birth or through breastmilk.

  4. Blood transfusion. (Still happens in some parts of the world by accident. The U.S. blood supply is very carefully screened for this and other infectious diseases such as hepatitis.)

The other important issue you raise is about custody questions. I suspect that the HIV concern is a thinly veiled attempt to utilize your sexuality against you. I highly recommend that you contact someone well-versed in these kinds of legal issues. I have some resources to suggest:

Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund, Inc.
Southern Regional Office
1447 Peachtree Street, NE, Suite 1004
Atlanta, GA 30309-3027
Phone: 1-404-897-1880
Fax: 1-404-897-1884

Other resources include:

Lesbian and Gay Parenting Support Groups in Georgia include:

This article was provided by National Pediatric and Family HIV Resource Center. You can find this article online by typing this address into your Web browser:

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