For non-biological parents, visitation rights become complicated

In some custody disputes, the concept of what "parent" means can arise. Is a parent someone who is the biological father or mother of the child? Or is someone who cared for and provided for the child also considered a parent?

Many times these questions are surfaced over the issue of visitation - who has visitation rights? Just recently a woman's visitation rights were denied. The Franklin County Court of Appeals decided that the visitation order was not valid because the woman had been in a same-sex partnership.

The woman had been in a relationship with another woman who had a daughter. Since the two broke up nearly three years ago, they have been fighting over custody of the girl. There had been a shared parenting agreement, but now the mother does not want the woman to have any visitation rights.

The dispute is whether there was a parent-like relationship and whether the woman even has rights to custody of the girl. Though there is a shared parenting agreement in place, the appeals court will not enforce it because under Ohio law, a temporary custody order would only be valid if the two individuals had been married.

This does not mean that the woman has no options. Her fight for permanent shared custody will bring her and the mother of the girl face-to-face in court in early July. The woman believes that her relationship with the girl should not be disrupted.

The broader issue is whether non-biological parents have rights to visitation and custody. Is it enough that the individual acted as a parent? Should visitation rights be granted if the couple was together for a certain amount of time? Or should the biological parent have the right to decide who plays a parent in their child's life?

Source: The Columbus Dispatch online, "Lesbian custody case is complicated,"Meredith Heagney, 11 June 2011

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