In re S.J.L. and J.K.L.
Rita Goodman and her former partner, Siobhan LaPiana, were in a committed relationship for 10 years. During that time, the couple had two children. LaPiana gave birth to the children but both women parented the boys equally. The women drafted and signed a parenting agreement before the birth of their first child, detailing their intent to share all responsibilities of parenthood. After the couple split up, LaPiana began restricting Goodman's interaction with her children. Goodman went to court and a Cleveland trial court ordered shared custody of the boys for Goodman and LaPiana. LaPiana appealed, arguing that Ohio's antigay constitutional amendment prevents courts from ordering shared custody to lesbian former partners and that the court's order infringed on her right to autonomy as a parent. Lambda Legal represented Rita Goodman. We successfully argued that Ohio's antigay constitutional amendment has no impact on Ohio courts' authority to order shared custody between former same-sex partners. Additionally, the appeals court agreed with us that because LaPiana agreed to co-parent her children from birth, it is constitutional for courts to step in to protect the children's bonded relationship to their second parent.
- February 2007 Rita Goodman files her application for custody.
- March 2007 Siobhan LaPiana moves to dismiss her application, arguing, among other things, that shared custody between lesbian former partners would violate the Ohio constitution and her right to parental autonomy.
- July 2007 The trial court denies LaPiana’s motion.
- June 2008 A hearing takes place at which many witnesses testify that LaPiana and Goodman planned their family together, and that the boys consider both of them to be mothers.
- August 2008 The trial court orders shared custody and LaPiana appeals.
- November 2008 LaPiana files appellate brief.
- January 2009 Goodman files appellate brief supported by friend-of-the-court briefs from the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the National Association of Social Workers and the NASW Ohio Chapter, and the Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. The guardian ad litem for the children also files a brief in support of affirming the trial court's order for shared custody.
- January 2010 Oral argument of the appeal is held.
- August 2010 Victory! The Court of Appeals affirms the trial court's decision and rejects LaPiana's claim that she was entitled to sever the children's relationship with Goodman. LaPiana does not attempt to appeal.
Pamela J. MacAdams of Morganstern, MacAdams & DeVito Co., LPA, in Cleveland, Ohio.