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July 15, 2011

Ex-partner has no parent rights, top court rules

Columbus--The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that the former partner of a child’s biological mother has no parental rights, even though she was a constant presence for the first two years of the girl’s life.

The July 12 ruling involves Michele Hobbs and Kelly Mullen, who after five years together, had a daughter in 2005. Mullen carried the baby, but the couple agreed to be equal co-parents.

For two years the couple raised the girl, sharing child-related expenses while Hobbs prepared meals, drove the child to and from child care and nursed her when she was sick. Then, in October 2007, the couple decided to split, and Mullen moved out, taking the girl with her. She denied Hobbs any contact, and Hobbs filed a petition for permanent shared custody two months later.

Hobbs was granted permanent shared custody a year later, but Mullen appealed and a juvenile court reversed the decision in April 2009. The court said because the couple had never gotten a written custody order, Mullen had not relinquished her sole custody.

An appeal was filed immediately, but in December 2009, an appellate court upheld the juvenile court decision. The case was accepted by the Ohio Supreme Court last year, and oral arguments were heard in February of this year.

The high court decided the case on a 4 to 3 split vote, upholding the juvenile court’s rejection of Hobbs’ request.

Justice Paul Pfeifer, in his dissenting opinion, took issue with the ruling.

“The majority’s decision today is the last step in this saga, and sadly, the best interests of Lucy will never have been considered at any level,” he wrote. “Instead, Mullen’s self-interest will be the sole determining factor. Besides Hobbs and Lucy, common decency is another victim in this case. Mullen was able to use the law as a weapon because same-sex coparents lack legal rights.”

“This decision is a tragedy for the child, above all else,” said attorney Christopher Clark with Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund’s Midwest regional office. “The court disregarded the overwhelming evidence that Ms. Mullen agreed to parent Lucy with Ms. Hobbs ‘in every way.’ ”

“Regrettably, the decision severs a parent-child relationship between Lucy and the person she knows to be her mother,” he continued. “All Ohio families should be alarmed by this, as a child with a non-biological parent could be taken from their mom or dad in the event of a separation.”

“This ruling is yet another example of how children raised by same-sex couples and people in same-sex relationships are harmed by the inequalities in Ohio law,” added Equality Ohio executive director Ed Mullen (no relation). “The only court that even considered the best interests of the child ruled that it was in the best interest of Lucy to maintain ties with Michele and that Michele should be granted joint custody.

“Equality Ohio is saddened when the lack of legal rights granted to same-sex couples in Ohio is used by a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to obtain personal advantage,” the organization wrote in a release.

The ruling also contradicts the Ohio Supreme Court’s 2002 decision In re Bonfield, when it found that a written agreement was not necessary in allocating parental rights to both members of a lesbian couple. That ruling denied joint adoption, but allowed shared custody.

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