Ohio Appeals Court Affirms Legality of Shared Custody Agreements for Lesbian and Gay Parents, Lambda Legal Says

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Unanimous decision recognizes the benefit to children of securing relationships with their parents
October 12, 2004

(Cincinnati, October 12, 2004) - An Ohio appeals court unanimously ruled that lesbian and gay couples must be allowed to protect their relationships with children they are raising together, in a decision that affirms state law and overturns a lower-court ruling that barred two women from creating a shared custody agreement, Lambda Legal said today.

The ruling from the 12th District of Ohio Appeals Court, says a child "benefits from having two caregivers, legally responsible for his welfare. Both will have the ability to make medical decision on his behalf and be able to interact with teachers and school administers without executing additional documents."

The decision follows an Ohio Supreme Court ruling in 2002, which recognized the harm caused to children when they're prevented from having legal relationships with the people who parent them. In that earlier ruling, which Lambda Legal urged as a friend of the court, the court ordered that the best interest of the child should be the guide in establishing shared custody agreements.

"Today's decision is in line with Ohio law on protecting children. Same-sex couples need to be able to protect their families, which too often requires a patchwork of legal documents that provide a fraction of the security they need. These shared custody agreements provide security to children about their parent-child relationships," said Heather Sawyer, Senior Counsel in Lambda Legal's Midwest Regional Office who argued the case.

Lambda Legal represents Cheryl and Jennifer McKettrick, a lesbian couple that was denied a shared custody agreement for their child, "Baby J," by a Warren County judge last year, who said that it offered no present benefit to the child. Breaking from legal precedent, the lower court found that because Cheryl and Jennifer might provide some security for "Baby J" through other documents like powers of attorney or wills, there was no need to approve a formal custody agreement.

Today's ruling found many benefits to the child from such agreements, overturned the trial court decision and sent the case back to the county court for additional proceedings.

Sawyer is lead counsel on the case for Lambda Legal. She is joined by co-counsel Sallee Fry and Sherry Davis of Cincinnati and Lisa Meeks of Newman & Meeks, Co., LPA in Cincinnati.


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