Co-Parent Not Entitled to Share Custody of Daughter

Co-Parent Not Entitled to…

Things just got tougher for non-traditional families in Ohio.

Same-sex parents are already prohibited from seeking second-parent adoptions in Ohio. Now, as a result of an Ohio Supreme Court ruling, non-biological and non-adoptive parents must have a shared custody agreement or a custody order from juvenile court in order to safeguard their rights with regard to their children.

On July 12th, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld lower court rulings that coparent Michelle Hobbs is not entitled to shared custody of her former partner's daughter. In a 4-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that although there was evidence showing that the girl's biological mother, Kelly Mullen, had intented to share custody with Hobbs, there was also evidence that Mullen did not enter into an agreement with Hobbs to "permanently relinquish sole legal custody of her child in favor of shared legal custody with Hobbs." It affirmed the lower court's decision to dismiss Hobbs' complaint for shared custody.

In his dissenting opinion, Justice Pfeifer concluded that the trial court's decision was not based upon competent, reliable evidence. Hobbs and Mullen were in a committed relationship and agreed to start a family together. Hobbs and Mullen planned the pregnancy, and Mullen gave birth to Lucy Kathleen Mullen in July 2005. Hobbs was listed on Lucy's ceremonial birth certificate. Hobbs and Mullen jointly cared for Lucy, supported her financially, and held themselves out and acted like a family. Lucy called Hobbs "Momma." Mullen named Hobbs as Lucy's guardian in her will and signed power of attorney documents, giving Hobbs the ability to make school, health, and other decisions for Lucy.

The majority of the Supreme Court, however, agreed with the lower courts that the evidence was sufficient to dismiss Hobbs' shared custody complaint. Mullen had refused to sign a shared custody agreement during her relationship with Hobbs. After their breakup, Mullen revoked the will and power of attorney documents which gave Hobbs some custodial responsibilities. The Supreme Court stated that "coparent" does not equate to "shared legal custody."

Justice Pfeifer lamented in his dissent that "[t]he law has not caught up to our culture, and this court has failed to craft a rule that addresses reality...A maternal relationship existed between Hobbs and Lucy. Mullen taught her daughter to call another woman "Momma" and to love her as a mother. She now wishes she hadn't, and for the majority, that's enough. It shouldn't be."

There are many legal and practical ramifications from this Supreme Court ruling. Please contact Maria Shinn to discuss what you can do to protect your family.

*Exerpts and quotes taken from the Ohio Supreme Court's opinion in In re Mullen, Slip Opinion No. 2011-Ohio-3361.

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