Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Lesbian couple wins custody point


Appeals court orders shared arrangement be considered

By Janice Morse
Enquirer staff writer

MIDDLETOWN - A Warren County lesbian couple has cleared another hurdle in their fight to be legally recognized as parents with equal rights.

The Ohio 12th District Court of Appeals said a Warren County court erred last year when it rejected Jennifer and Cheryl McKettrick's shared-custody agreement for their son. In a decision released Monday, the Middletown-based appeals court sent the case back to the original court for more action.

The women could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Lambda Legal, a national civil-rights advocacy group that represents them, heralded the appeals court's decision.

"(The appeals court'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," said Heather Sawyer, a Lambda Legal lawyer.

Cheryl McKettrick donated an egg, which was fertilized and implanted into her partner. Jennifer McKettrick gave birth to the child on March 16, 2001. The child "has no legal, presumed or alleged father," the court said, noting both women have shared in the child's rearing since his birth.

"The trial court did not make a conclusive finding as to who is (the child's) mother," the appeals court said. The trial court also ignored the benefits of the women's agreement and failed to consider factors in the child's best interest, the appeals court said.

"(The child) benefits from having two caregivers, legally responsible for his welfare," the appellate judges said. "Both will have the ability to make medical decisions on his behalf and will be able to interact with teachers and school administrators without executing additional documents."

The appeals court ordered the trial court to decide three things: which woman is the child's legal mother, whether the proposed custodian is a proper person to care for the child, and whether the proposed shared-parenting plan is in the child's best interest.

E-mail jmorse@enquirer.com




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