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Same-sex parents battle over child custody

In Ohio, child custody issues between same-sex couples just got more complicated. Two women decide they want to have a baby together. One woman makes arrangements to be artificially inseminated by a male friend, who in turn agrees to relinquish all parental rights.

The problem is that Ohio does not recognize same-sex marriage. It also bars second-parent adoptions. So the women go to a lawyer to sign child custody papers agreeing to "co-parent in every way."

All is well and good, right? Well, it was initially great, but by the time the baby was two years of age, the women's relationship deteriorated. They separated, and a petition for joint custody followed. That is when the problems started.

The biological mother who was artificially inseminated opposed the joint custody request of her former partner. Litigation and temporary visitation rights followed. The trial and appellate courts both held for the biological mother. The case was heard by the Ohio Supreme Court, which ultimately also ruled for the biological mother.

In effect, the court says the government generally has no right to interfere in the parenting and shared custody decisions of a biological parent, absent abuse or neglect. The courts decided that the biological mother had never officially signed away her custodial rights. The agreement the women did sign was deemed insufficient, without regard to the words "co-parent in every way."

So what do same-sex couples do? The answer, it seems, is to make certain the shared custody agreement specifically states the biological parent cedes all parental rights in favor of joint parental rights. Without it, Ohio courts will decide these cases in favor of the biological parent. With it, custody disputes between the parties would be decided with the "best interest of the child" in mind; like how custody is decided for heterosexual couples.

These are complicated child custody issues. For same-sex couples the lesson is be aware of the language contained in your agreement before proceeding. The law in this area in Ohio and elsewhere continues to evolve. An attorney familiar with the family law and procedure as it is applied in Ohio may offer some comfort to those needing assistance.

Source: The Other Paper, "What about Lucy?," Steph Greegor, July 21, 2011

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