F & F Quoted on Lesbian Custody Battle: ‘The relationship between children and their parents needs to be protected’

citybeatCincinnati City Beat’s Jacob Baynham has written a front page story on a high-profile Mullen-Hobbs lesbian custody battle in Ohio. In that case, lesbian biological mom (Kelly Mullen) and sperm donor (Scott Liming) are pitted against social mom Michele Hobbs. The child, 4-year-old Lucy Mullen, has resided with Kelly since the breakup of the Mullen/Hobbs relationship.

Liming was originally intended to be simply a sperm donor. However, after the girl’s birth, to his credit, he fell for the little girl and decided he wanted to have an active role in the child’s life. The girl spends every Monday with Liming. Hobbs hasn’t been allowed to see the girl since Christmas.

citybeatfrontpageAs we’ve explained, while Fathers & Families takes no position on gay marriage, we do defend the right of all fit parents to play a meaningful role in their children’s lives, and Hobbs clearly has a parent-child relationship with Lucy.

Fathers & Families views these cases as analogous to cases of married heterosexual couples where the man is infertile and the couple uses a sperm donor. Such children are considered the children of the marriage, and are raised by both the mother and father.

If the couple divorces, the woman can’t decide that because she’s the only biological parent, she can drive her ex out of their child’s life. She agreed to have children with her then-husband, and the former husband has a parent-child relationship with their child. The husband is the child’s father and the child’s right to a relationship with him must be protected, regardless of the mother’s recalcitrance.

The lesbian custody cases Fathers & Families has gotten involved in are no different–the couple agreed to have a child together, had one via a sperm donor, and raised the child together. The loving bond the non-biological/social mother has with the child doesn’t dissolve upon breakup, nor can it be tossed aside because the biological mom no longer finds it convenient–the bond must be protected.

To learn more about the case, click here or listen to my interview on the Bill Cunningham Show on 700 WLW in Cincinnati by clicking here.

From Cincinnati City Beat’s Losing Lucy (3/3/10):

[F]or [Michele] Hobbs, the situation is tragically simple: Somewhere in Cincinnati is a four-year old girl named Lucy, who she helped raise for two years and loves as her daughter. Because she is not biologically related to Lucy, the courts have ruled that Hobbs has no legal right to see her. But love isn”t so easily thwarted…

Sandwiched between court documents in one of her binders is a photo taken five years ago, in another era in Hobbs” life. It is an ultrasound of Lucy, when she was a fivemonth-old fetus in the womb of Hobbs” former partner, Kelly Mullen. The couple had used in vitro fertilization to impregnate Mullen — the younger of the two by eight years. Mullen and Hobbs were so excited to see their daughter that a month later they paid for another photo. The amniotic peace of the pictures is a stark contrast to the bitter tug of war that would begin two years later…

Hobbs and Mullen met at a business expo at the convention center in spring 2000. They started dating, and three years into their relationship they built a house in Prospect Hill together, for which Hobbs was the general contractor. At the same time, the couple started talking about having a child by way of in vitro fertilization, a $12,000 procedure that they paid for by securing a second mortgage on their home.

Hobbs had a gay friend in Atlanta named Scott Liming who she thought would be the perfect sperm donor. Hobbs first met Liming in 1996 and thought he was “gorgeous.’ She joked about having his kids one day. At Hobbs” request, Liming visited Cincinnati to meet Mullen, who agreed to use him as the father. When the timing was right, Liming Fed-Ex”ed his sample to Cincinnati, and with the help of the Center for Reproductive Health, Mullen was impregnated.

In court testimony, Mullen claims that she always wanted to be a mother, and that Hobbs was merely playing the role of “supportive girlfriend.’

But Hobbs says Mullen fully intended for her to be a co-parent. As evidence, she points to the in vitro fertilization consent forms, on which Hobbs” name appears as “partner’ and “female participant.’ Before Lucy”s birth, Mullen also signed a will and two powers of attorney, all of which included the sentence: “I consider Michele Hobbs to be Lucy”s co-parent in every way.’ (Mullen later revoked these documents when she separated with Hobbs.) Hobbs attended doctor appointments and Lamaze classes with Mullen, cooked for her — Hobbs” homemade chicken wings were one of Mullen”s favorite dishes — and drove her to the hospital when her water broke.

Mullen gave birth to a 7-pound, 10-ounce Lucy Kathleen Mullen at Christ Hospital on July 27, 2005. Hobbs was in the delivery room and cut the umbilical cord. The names of both Mullen and Hobbs appear on Christ Hospital”s ceremonial birth certificate, above Lucy”s ink footprints. Hobbs has a black and white photo of the three of them together in the delivery room. Hobbs has Lucy in her arms, and she and Mullen are glowing.

According to friends testifying at the trial — including Cincinnati City Councilwoman Leslie Ghiz — as Lucy grew, Hobbs and Mullen behaved as a family and shared responsibilities for raising her. Hobbs says she taught Lucy how to brush her teeth, potty trained her, cooked for her and drove her to and from daycare. According to Hobbs and others, Lucy called Mullen “Mommy’ and Hobbs “Mama.’ They attended Christ Church Cathedral on Sundays.

In July 2007, when Lucy was two years old, Mullen and Hobbs decided to split. Hobbs says the relationship had begun to unravel, and after going through counseling they decided to end it. The pair lived in separate rooms of their house for three months, still sharing in Lucy”s care, before Mullen left with Lucy and refused Hobbs” requests to see her. Hobbs filed a complaint for joint custody in December 2007.

The case went to trial in July 2008 before Hamilton County Juvenile Court Magistrate David Kelley. The trial lasted for two days. Christopher Clark, a senior attorney with the national gay-rights group Lambda Legal, represented Hobbs pro bono and argued on her behalf at the trial.

“It was proven conclusively,’ Clark says, “that Michele Hobbs is a mother to her daughter and that was the agreement that she and her partner had all along.’

The evidence was overwhelming that Hobbs and Mullen wanted to have a child together, Clark adds. “They told their family, their community, their friends, their daughter and each other that they were both mothers,’ he says.

In December 2008 Kelley ruled in Hobbs” favor, granting her shared custody of Lucy. “The evidence and testimony presented at trial shows that the women had an agreement to have and raise a child together,’ Kelley writes in his decision. “Ms. Hobbs” testimony on this issue was very credible.’ Kelley adds that Mullen”s testimony to the contrary “is not supported by (her) actions during the period leading up to and immediately following Lucy”s birth.’

Mullen appealed the decision, and appeared on Channel 5″s newscast the following month with Liming, Lucy”s biological father, who had moved to Cincinnati to be a part of Lucy”s life.

“Right now every Saturday, my daughter goes and spends six hours of unsupervised time with someone that I don”t even want her to be with,’ Mullen said…

Oddly, Mullen”s argument has been repeated by conservative groups such as Virginia-based Liberty Counsel, affiliated with Jerry Falwell”s Liberty University. The group has also fought against same-sex marriage and adoptions by gay people.

Lambda Legal”s Clark points out that Hobbs went to fertility treatments with Mullen, injected her with hormones, attended a birthing class, was in the delivery room with Mullen, and cut Lucy”s umbilical cord.

“To compare her situation to that of a babysitter or nanny is absurd,’ Clark says. “There is nothing under the law that would allow a baby-sitter or a nanny to go into court and seek custodial rights. These are mean-spirited scare tactics of the lowest order.’

“We”re talking about a woman who is a mother and whose little girl calls her ‘Mama,” ‘ Clark adds, “and no rewriting of history by Kelly Mullen is going to change that.’

In April 2009 Mullen”s appeal was considered by Juvenile Court Judge Thomas Lipps, who overturned Magistrate Kelley”s decision and terminated Hobbs” custody of Lucy. Lipps based his ruling on Mullen”s “consistent refusal’ to enter into a written custody agreement with Hobbs. According to Hobbs, a year after Lucy”s birth the couple discussed signing a written agreement — which helps cement the custodial rights of a non-biological parent, but isn”t mandatory proof of parenthood. (Hobbs” lawyers argued, and the First District Appellate Court later confirmed, that a contract of shared custody can be implied on a non-biological third-party through words, actions or deeds, not just a written agreement.)

Hobbs says Mullen was afraid that Liming would need to be involved in the agreement, and might assert custody rights of his own. Hobbs dropped the idea, and didn”t raise it again until she had broken up with Mullen…

Hobbs appealed Lipps” decision to the First District Court of Appeals, where a three-judge panel reviewed the case. On Dec. 31, 2009, Judge Sylvia Hendon ruled in favor of Mullen again, stating, “We do not doubt that Hobbs bonded with Lucy. The record is replete with evidence that Hobbs loves this little girl. But the trial court did not err. Hobbs has no legal right to share in Lucy”s custody.’

The appellate court, which is typically deferent to the fact-finding of lower courts, relied heavily on Lipps” conclusion that Mullen”s refusal to sign a written agreement indicated that she never intended to share Lucy”s custody.

Hobbs hasn”t seen her daughter since Christmas, and although she feels desperate at times, she remains determined…

Hobbs” case has attracted the attention of Glenn Sacks, executive director of Fathers and Families, a national organization that advocates for fathers who have lost custody of their children. Hobbs” situation involves some of the same family court issues that his group is fighting to reform, Sacks says.

“I see it as a parenting issue, not a gay issue,’ he says. “The relationship between children and their parents needs to be protected.’

Children who are denied access to one of their parents can blame themselves, Sacks says, creating deep emotional and psychological problems. “These children are greatly harmed when they lose one of their parents, be it a father or a mother,’ he adds…

Hobbs has a recording of Lucy”s voice from August 2008. Magistrate Kelley”s decision was still pending at that time, but Hobbs had interim visitation rights to see Lucy for six hours every Saturday. On this particular day, they were going to the zoo. Lucy was three years old, and was trying to explain that Mullen wanted her to call Hobbs “Michele.’ It takes her little mind a full stammering minute to arrange the syntax of the sentence, but finally she gets it right, capturing her complex situation with a child”s clarity.

“Mommy says that ‘Mama”s not Mama, Mama”s Michele,” ‘ Lucy says. “So I say, ‘No Mommy, she”s Mama!” ‘

Read the full article here.

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