For most LGBT parents, it took careful planning, deliberate action, and financial commitment to create their families. LGBT parents must do the same careful planning, deliberate action, and financial commitment to protect their families.
This LGBT Parenting series will explore the ways that non-traditional families can take action to put legal protections into place. My first blog article, "Key Takeaway from LGBT Parenting Seminar: Take Action!" gave an overview of the legal protections available. This article explores Shared Custody as one of the means to protect the parents and children in a nontraditional family.
LGBT Parenting: Shared Custody
For LGBT parents who are not married, Shared Custody is the gold standard. With Shared Custody, the Juvenile Court issues an order, stating that both the biological/adoptive parent and the non-biological/non-adoptive parent are the legal custodians of the children. Both parents have the ability to consent to medical treatment for the children, have access to the children’s school and medical records, work with the children’s daycare and preschool providers, actively participate in their children’s education, sign school paperwork, etc.
Without Shared Custody, the non-biological/non-adoptive parent has no legal rights and is considered a legal stranger to his/her own children.
Shared Custody also protects the children. The children now have two adults who are legally obligated to provide for them. In addition, if something happens to their biological/adoptive parent, the children will not be subjected to a legal battle over guardianship because their other parent already has legal custody of them. Knowing that their children will be protected in the event of an emergency gives both parents an enormous sense of comfort and relief.
The downside to Shared Custody is that it doesn't last forever. Custody generally ends at 18 or when the child finishes high school. So why can't these parents pursue adoption, which is forever? It's because in Ohio, unmarried same-sex couples cannot pursue adoption through Probate Court. Ohio does not allow second-parent adoptions, so gay and lesbian couples must be married in order to pursue a step-parent adoption.
As a result of Ohio's limited adoption options, Shared Custody is still the best option for non-traditional parents living in Ohio who cannot or do not want to get married.