Custody Fights Between Lesbian Partners

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I live in Ohio and I’m proud to say that although Ohio is basically anti-gay in its laws and legal precedents, the Ohio Supreme Court recently upheld a custody agreement between two lesbian mothers.

Now the court is considering another case between lesbian partners. Both cases involve long-term relationships in which children were born and raised and in which equal parenting agreements had been written and agreed to by both parents. Then the couple breaks up and the birth mother suddenly decides that her child(ren) would be hurt by another mother hanging around, even though that is what the boy(s) were used to and had come to depend on.

A recent issue (December 15, 2008) of Newsweek Magazine ran a story about a similar case–not in Ohio–with a twist: the birth mother has become a “born-again” Christian and no longer identifies herself as a lesbian. So she adds religious convictions to her argument. (For a view of the other side, read this Christian-oriented article and interview with the biological mother.)

These are just a few of the cases that are popping up all over the country. At stake are the children’s rights to have continued contact with both persons they have always identified as their parents. It is interesting that even in states that have anti-gay marriage amendments, many courts are upholding any previous parenting agreements made by the two parties. Even though you could argue that the non-biological mother’s case is weak because she never legally adopted the child(ren).

In a society where familial bonds are weaker than ever, it is always sad whenever sole custody along with the ability to restrict visitation is granted to one party. This is as true in heterosexual relationships as in homosexual ones. Over the past couple of decades, heterosexual couples are being forced into joint custody agreements, which many mothers have fought, believing that it is in the best interests of the children to only have one “home” and one primary parent (namely, the mother). This is as unfair to fathers as it is to the lesbian non-biological mothers in the lesbian relationships.

I should say here that I was one of the mothers who had sole custody and who would have been terribly upset if the judge had granted my ex joint custody. But I would have gotten over it, just as I got over the times when he had them for holidays and vacations. I think our children would have adjusted as well. (I still think that it’s better for one parent to have primary custody so that the child can always go to the same school. But when the father lives in the same school district, this argument loses its validity.)

It is not just the rights of the children that we are talking about, after all. We are also talking about the rights of both parents to continue to play a role in their children’s lives. I believe that a child’s life is richer when he or she has access to both parents. There were times when I resented the time my children spent with their father, but I knew that they would be better off if they had a close relationship with him as well as with me. As they’ve gotten older, I’ve come to see that I was right. He fills in the blanks I can’t fill.

When visitation is restricted or even forbidden it as if the court is saying that the child only needs a certain amount of love in her or his life. In my experience, children need all the love they can get. As do we all.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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