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Ohio same-sex couple battles over custody, visitation rights

A complicated Ohio child custody case, active since October 2008, finally concluded last month.

In the Ohio case, a same-sex couple was involved in a heated battle surrounding the custody of their child, who was born in September 2003 with the assistance of artificial insemination. The couple, two women, had been together since at least 2003. Their relationship ended just before their custody case began, sometime between August and October 2008.

Originally, both women were named temporary shared custodians, but that decision was modified to make the child's biological mother the legal custodian while allowing the other woman visitation. Not long after, the non-biological parent filed a motion for contempt against the other, citing that she was not following the orders of the court regarding visitation with the child.

The child's biological mother was found guilty of contempt and appealed the decision. Her appeal was granted, but this was not the last time she would be accused of contempt. In February 2010, the non-biological mother went back to court, looking for visitation rights once more and was granted them. The biological mother, again, did not allow her to spend time with their child and she accused her former partner of contempt. This time the child's biological mother was sentenced to three days in jail and a payment of $2,500 to her ex for legal fees.

Appealing this decision as well, the biological parent determined that the juvenile court was not legally capable of awarding visitation rights to a non-relative; in this case, the non-biological parent. Though juvenile courts are allowed to award visitation rights to non-relatives in the event that the case involves separation, divorce, child support proceedings or annulment, none of these were apparent in the case between the same-sex couple, so the court was determined to be acting outside of its jurisdiction when it awarded visitation to the non-biological parent.

The state of Ohio does not recognize same-sex marriages or domestic partnerships, so there is no legal standard for how cases like this one should be handled. However, the family law issues of the GLBT community are just as real as those stemming from opposite-sex relationships. If you are facing issues similar to the ones seen in this case, seeking experienced legal advice may be helpful in understanding your rights and options.

Source: Westlaw, 2011 WL 2407746 (Ohio App. 10 Dist.)

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