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Lesbian Mother Loses Ohio Custody Court Battle

A lesbian mother that took care of a child was denied parental rights by an Ohio court, but a sperm donor that had almost no contact was given them. Here's what happened:

  • Two women, partners, want a child.
  • Male friend donates sperm. Signs contract giving up rights to child.
  • Woman gives birth to baby girl.
  • Couple splits up two years later.
  • Birth mother moves out with child.
  • Non-birth mother sues for custody rights. Denied.

In the court's opinion [PDF], the judge recognizes that that the non-birth mother acted as a parent while the couple was together, including the facts that the non-birth mother's name was on the birth certificate and that she had been able to make health and support decisions for the child.

Julie Shaprio, a professor at Seattle University Law, pointed out what happened to the sperm donor:

By contrast, the court found that [the sperm donor] was a parent, even though he had signed an agreement to relinquish his rights and he played only a limited role in the child’s life.   (This finding wasn’t appealed, so it isn’t discussed in the opinion.  It’s not clear to me why his written agreement is without force.)

So could this happen anywhere? No. I've talked before about how different states have different laws about the rights of non-birth mothers that separate from a relationship with the birth mother.  It's possible in this case that the non-birth mother wasn't given parental rights because, after finding that the sperm donor was a parent, the court didn't want to assign a third parent to the child.

[Cross-posted at the Gay Couples Law Blog. Published by Gideon Alper, who also publishes the Atlanta Divorce Law Blog, it discusses same sex family law, estate planning, and taxes.]

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Gideon Alper

Gideon Alper