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Ohio Mother Listed on Birth Certificate Might Lose Parental Rights as Same-Sex Marriage Ends

When both members of a married couple are listed as parents on a child’s birth certificate, it seems self-evident that both will retain parenting rights even if they divorce. A Warren County woman who has shared in the raising of a young boy since he was born in 2017 is learning that this might not be the case under Ohio law.

Channing Sweet had been wed in 2016, one year after the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges made same-sex marriage legal throughout the country. She and her wife wanted to start a family and they decided that Sweet’s spouse would carry the baby after being impregnated by sperm from a donor. Both women were listed on the infant’s birth certificate. Ohio law states that when a married woman gives birth to a child after fertilization from a sperm donor, her husband is presumed to be the legal father as long his name is on the birth certificate.

However, the law does not explicitly extend this presumption to same-sex couples, despite the legalization of same-sex marriage. Now that Sweet and her spouse are divorcing, that means she could be denied child custody and visitation despite the birth certificate and the fact that she has raised the child and helped take care of his daily needs since he was born.

Same-sex couples who seek to raise children conceived through a sperm, egg or embryo donation need to be aware of this legal inconsistency. While legislation explicitly stating that all couples have the same parental rights when a donor is used in fertilization, that might not be happening anytime soon. In the meantime, there are measures you might wish to take in order to avoid Channing Sweet’s heartbreaking situation.

A parent who does not have a biological tie to a child conceived through donor fertilization could complete the adoption process to establish indisputable parental rights. Though this might seem redundant for someone who has handled parenting duties for a young person since they were born, this type of confirmatory adoption provides the legal bond many people thought they created when their name was included on their child’s birth certificate.

Mock Law, L.P.A. in Toledo provides comprehensive legal guidance to same-sex families and other Northwest Ohio parents on child custody issues. To make an appointment for a consultation, please call 567-200-3573 or contact me online. My phones are answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week.