Friday, February 25, 2011

Ohio Supreme Court Hears Same Sex Parenting Case ~ In re Lucy Mullen

            I just got done listening to oral arguments before the Ohio Supreme Court regarding co-parenting between same sex couples ~ In re Lucy Mullen ~ heard on February 2, 2011.  The Court will render a decision soon, but thought I'd post the link to the arguments.

            Ohio biological parents can give up their custodial rights to children in one of two ways:  sign a contract doing so; or act in a manner that clearly indicates intent to give up custodial rights. 

            In this case, the mother and her girlfriend appeared to have every intention of co-parenting.  However, when the relationship soured, the mother sought legal counsel and refused to sign a co-parenting agreement with the girlfriend; this was a key fact for the lower court in deciding that mother didn't, as a matter of law, relinquish custody to the girlfriend. 
            Counsel for the girlfriend seemed to argue, in essence, that if  through your actions you agree to co-parent, that is the same as giving away or relinquishing custodial rights. And you can't later change your mind in the legal sense by refusing to put that agreement in writing. 

            I've wondered whether the Ohio Supreme Court might use this case as a basis, for public policy reasons, to adopt a bright line standard that says:  if you want co-parenting rights, you must enter into a written agreement.   After hearing the arguments, and questions by the Justices, I'm not convinced that will happen.   

           Though new Justice Yvette Brown alluded to the confusion created by the wide variety of ways people can come to court and now argue there is a  non-written but valid parenting agreement,  Douglas Dougherty, attorney for biological mother, stopped short of requesting a "gold standard" requiring written agreements in these situations.  Instead, he seemed to say that courts are equipped to determine whether there is an implied contract based on facts and circumstances. Chief Justice O'Connor also pointed out that having agreements in writing is not a cure-all (lots of written agreements end up in court) and, further, that courts are in business to sort through facts and access credibility.  

         Looking forward to seeing how the Justices bring clarity to non traditional parenting.