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Lesbian child custody case escalates

The definition of what makes a family is constantly evolving. As step families and same-sex parents become increasingly commonplace, child custody cases are becoming more complex. But custody is not guaranteed for non-biological parents, as one woman in Ohio has found out recently. Because gay marriage is banned in the state, a judge has refused to grant a visitation order for a woman who helped to raise a 7-year-old girl who she considers her child.

The woman has been involved in a bitter custody dispute with her ex-partner over the girl for almost three years. The girl's biological mother has been trying to prevent her ex-partner from having access to her daughter, claiming that she was never considered a parent. But the woman feels as though she was a second mother to the child, and appealed to the courts for visitation.

An Ohio court did grant the woman visitation rights, but this order has been revoked by a court of appeals. It overturned the decision as the law only allows the courts to enforce visitation orders in custody cases involving a divorce or legal separation. Because the pair was never married, her petition for visitation did not hold up in court. The woman is now seeking a temporary custody agreement so that she can continue to spend time with the child that she considers her own.

This case has attracted attention from numerous gay-rights groups in the state, concerned that non-biological parents can lose their access to a child because Ohio law prevents same-sex couples from marrying or adopting. Ultimately, however, the best interests of the child should be the main priority.

Source: Dispatch, "Lesbian custody case is complicated," Meredith Heagney, 11 June 2011

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