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January 30, 2009


Mom wants ban used to keep ex from kids

Cleveland--Less than a month after the Ohio Supreme Court agreed that the state’s marriage ban amendment has no bearing on a child custody plan, another biological mother is trying to use the ban to keep her former partner out of their children’s lives.

Siobhan LaPiana is appealing an August ruling by the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court, which upheld a shared custody and visitation agreement with her former partner Rita Goodman. She is asking the Eighth District Court of Appeals to overturn the plan, created before their two children were born.

On January 5, the Ohio Supreme Court turned away an appeal of a unanimous Tenth District Court of Appeals decision that said the state’s 2004 constitutional marriage ban doesn’t affect parenting agreements. Chief Justice Thomas Moyer dismissed the appeal as “not involving any substantial constitutional question.”

That case involved a Columbus-area former couple, Denise Marie Fairchild and Therese Marie Leach, who split up six months after signing a shared parenting agreement. Fairchild, the biological mother, could not get courts to invalidate the pact.

LaPiana’s arguments are similar to Fairchild’s. Should the Eighth District rule in LaPiana’s favor, it could cause a split between the district courts, forcing the Ohio Supreme Court to reconsider the ban’s effect on parenting agreements.

LaPiana’s attorney, Katherine A. Friedell of Cleveland, said the Ohio justices didn’t take the Fairchild case because their appeal should have been done differently. She also believes LaPiana’s case is different factually from Fairchild’s.

Goodman is represented by Cleveland attorney Pamela MacAdams and by the gay and lesbian Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. Lambda attorney Camilla Taylor wrote Goodman’s brief, which was filed January 20.

LaPiana and Goodman, both college professors living in Cleveland Heights, were together from 1991 to 2001.

Through family planning and anonymous artificial insemination, the couple had two sons, who are now 8 and 11 years old.

According to court documents, the couple decided that LaPiana, who is eight years younger, would be the biological mother; and that the sperm donor was, like Goodman, Jewish and of Russian and Polish ancestry.

LaPiana and Goodman shared the cost of the procedure and took Goodman’s last name. Theis sons were named after members of Goodman’s family.

Before their first son was born in 1997, the women created a joint parenting agreement that shared family and household responsibilities, and also gave Goodman equal power over medical decisions for the children.

Goodman was named guardian in LaPiana’s will, and the women had joint financial responsibility for the children. Goodman was “Mommy,” and LaPiana was “Momma.” Goodman’s parents were “Grandma” and “Grampa.”

The agreement also has provisions in case the couple split up, including that the parties would “do our best to see that our child maintains a close and loving relationship with each of us” despite the separation, that they would “share in our child’s upbringing” and support, “make a good faith effort to jointly make all major decisions affecting our child’s health and welfare,” and that “the person who has actual physical custody will take all steps necessary to maximize the other’s visitation and help make visitation as easy as possible.”

After they separated, the women lived a few blocks apart while the children visited between the two.

In 2006, LaPiana moved in with a new boyfriend, told Goodman she would cut her out of the boys’ lives, and had a court change the childrens’ last names to LaPiana without informing Goodman.

Goodman was no longer allowed to call the boyfriend’s house.

Goodman asked the Juvenile Court to establish her rights of contact with the boys and her shared parenting in February, 2007, which it did.

The court appointed a guardian ad litem to advocate for the boys, and he supports Goodman’s involvement.

LaPiana says Goodman has a “controlling” personality and that she was under duress when she signed the parenting agreement, the medical power papers and her will.

The juvenile court rejected LaPiana’s claims, but named her the “residential parent” with authority to determine matters of religion, physician selection, medical treatment, and school selection.

Goodman was granted the right to attend school functions, visitation every other weekend and for one evening a week, and three uninterrupted weeks of summer visitation, among other things.

LaPiana says the Juvenile Court had no right to interfere with her parental rights without a declaration that she is unfit, that no Ohio law grants standing for Goodman to assert parental rights, that the court had no right to appoint a guardian ad litem, and that granting Goodman rights violates LaPiana’s rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the marriage ban amendment to the Ohio Constitution.

In a 2002 case called In re Bonfield, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that parenting and custody agreements between same-sex parents are constitutional and enforceable.

The Eighth District Court of Appeals is expected to hear this case and issue a ruling later this year.             

This material is copyrighted by the Gay People’s Chronicle. Permission is given only to repost the headline, byline, and one or two paragraphs, with the full name of the Gay People’s Chronicle and a link to the full article on our website. Reproduction of the entire article is prohibited without specific written permission.


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