What Is The Difference Between a Parent and A Babysitter?

There is a recent case out of Ohio that has got me thinking, even though it is unfortunately familiar in terms of its facts.   Once again, sad to say, it concerns lesbian mothers, one of whom is behaving rather badly in my view.

Julie Ann Smith and Julie Rose Rowell were a lesbian couple.  Smith gave birth to a daughter in 2003 while the women lived together.   The daughter was conceived via AI and it appears to me that an unknown sperm provider was used.

The relationship ended in 2008, which means the child was around five.   Smith refused Rowell any contact with the child and Rowell sued to gain shared custody.   After hearing 16 days of testimony, a magistrate has now ruled that Smith must indeed share custody with Rowell.

I won’t go into the details of the opinion or of Ohio law.    But here are some key points.   First, Rowell didn’t have any clearly established parental rights at the beginning of the case.  If she had, her entitlement to some time with the child would be quite clear.    So if, for instance, she had been able to complete a second-parent adoption, this case would have simply looked like an ordinary custody case.

Second, the case seems to have turned on how you characterize Rowell’s relationship with the child.   The  magistrate found that the relationship between Rowell and the child was essentially (in function) a parent/child relationship.   The magistrate rejected Smith’s contention that Rowell was a roommate/girlfriend who also served as a babysitter.  The paper, quoting the opinion, puts it this way:

“Knisely ruled that the evidence and exhibits “support (Rowell’s) testimony that she and Smith were life partners with an agreement to raise Maddie together. They do not support Smith’s assertions that Rowell was just a girlfriend/roommate and sometime baby-sitter.” “

Smith contended that she was a single parent and portrayed the ruling here as a danger to single parents, but the court found facts that were inconsistent with this:

The magistrate found that Rowell was present for the successful insemination procedure and all obstetrics visits, helped create the nursery, attended Lamaze classes and was Smith’s birthing coach. She was present throughout the baby’s delivery and cut the umbilical cord.

“Neither assumed the role of primary caretaker until Smith unilaterally cut Rowell out of Maddie’s life when their relationship failed,” Knisely wrote. “Until that point … she was never a single-parent child but part of a committed familial relationship, albeit a family of all females.”

Now I generally do support the rights of single parents.  I also understand that single parents often do rely on friends for support and occasional childcare.   (Indeed, even non-single parents do this.)  Just because a single parent does this it doesn’t mean she (or he) gives up his sole parental rights or that she (or he) invites that friend to be a parent.

Thus, it isn’t on the level of theory that I disagree with Smith’s position.   The question here is one of fact.   What was Rowell’s relationship to the child?

This is a very important question for me generally.  Or perhaps I should say that this sort of question is very important to me.   Remember that I support a functional definition of parenthood.  That means of Rowell has acted like a parent for a substantial period of time (and the judge here concluded that she did) then I think she should be recognized as a parent.

And this means that perhaps it does come down to figuring out whether she was a babysitter (no rights) or a coparent (rights).   And while I won’t pretend that I can offer an opinion on this question from this distance with no personal knowledge of the facts, it doesn’t strike me that this is question beyond the capability of a good trial judge.   Indeed, I think most of us can tell the difference between babysitters and parents pretty quickly and surely.   And I will even hazard a statement that we’d mostly all come to the same conclusions about who was in which category.  (This last might be going out on a little bit of a limb, but I’ll say it anyway.)

Now that isn’t to say it is easy to articulate and that does make me slightly uneasy.   Maybe I need to work on that some more (a little project for the weekend.)   But in the meantime, you can ask yourself–can you tell the difference between a babysitter and a parent?  How?

54 responses to “What Is The Difference Between a Parent and A Babysitter?

  1. the fact that this couple are lesbians is blinding the judge to the fact that this is in fact a common scenario among heterosexual couples and it’s called neither a baby sitter or a parent, but a step parent.

    • I’m not sure how you figure she’s a step-parent. What (in your view) is the essence of step-parentness? I’m with one of the commentors below–I think step-parents are people who join into the child’s life later on, not those who are there from the beginning.

      And for what it is worth, in my world a step parent could be a parent.

  2. in most locales, step parents don’t have any rights, I think they should have some but I can’t define what they should be.

    • They sometimes have rights (in loco parentis) during the period of time they are married to a parent. I’d say where a step parent actually functions as parent for a significant period of time, they should have the rights of a parent.

  3. Well, I can’t say I like the legal result in this case – I think parental rights should have to be signed away. While second parent adoption doesn’t seem to be legal for gay couples in Ohio, an Ohio Supreme Court decision in 2002 allows gay couples to submit a permanent agreement to share rights & responsibilities to the court, and when accepted by the court, it becomes binding and enforceable. The child was born after 2002 (she’s 8 now, so she would have been born in 2003 or 2004), so certainly that option was available, yet they didn’t do it (and the biological mother claims the topic came up and she flat out refused to do it). I don’t think the fact that there is a bond between a child and a legal non-parent should automatically mean the parent has permanently lost rights. I am sure there are many children with heterosexual parents who have a very close and loving relationship with a stepparent, but in most states those stepparents would have no rights if the relationship ended unless they adopted the child.

    • For what it is worth, I would reach the same result (based on the relationship between the parties and the child) no matter whether the parents were lesbians or straight or whatever. They key to me is that relationship. If you had the same facts with a heterosexual couple, I’d reach the same result.

      It’s also important to realize the nature of the loss of parental rights you refer to–the one suffered by Smith here. Smith was and is a parent. Her rights are diminished after this ruling because they are not exclusive. I just want to be clear that she doesn’t lose her legal status.)

      One of my key points is that we should protect a child’s relationships–at least those that have the magnitude that this one apparently does. The law doesn’t always do that. But it’s also true that such a relationship doesn’t exactly spring up over night. It takes a long time and a lot of contact. Thus, it’s impossible for me to imagine that such a relationship could develop without the approval and participation of the other parent unless the other parent is completely asleep at the wheel. Thus, I’m less concerned about the diminution of parental rights. If you agree to share parenting with someone and actually let them do it for long enough than there is a reliance on your actions–by the child as well as by the other parent–and so I don’t think you are free to simply change your mind.

      • Well I’d say having your child not live with you 50% of the time is a pretty big loss. I think a parent should be able to encourage a positive relationship between their child and their spouse/partner without having to worry that if they break up they will have to give up 50% of their time with the child they were the only legal parent of. What are they supposed to do if they want to be in a long-term relationship and remain the only parent, if refusing to allow adoption or another legal process for establishing rights is no longer enough?

        • You are right it is a loss and I do not mean to discount it, but I would distinguish between the loss of sole parental rights and the loss of any/all parental rights. Smith wants to completely erase Rowell from the child’s life. That’s quite different than what Rowell wants to do–which is to cut back on Smith’s time and autonomy, admittedly, but not destroy the relationship Smith has with the child.

          The question you raise–can a single parent encourage a good relationship between her/his child and a partner/lover/spouse without compromising parental rights–is also a good one. And it takes me back to the question of whether we can tell the difference between a babysitter and a parent, or perhaps it takes me to a varient of that question.

          I’d say you can allow your new person to have a role in the child’s life and preserve your own rights–until the role that person plays becomes a parental role. If that person plays a parental role for a significant period of time, then I think you (the single parent) have essentially made a decision and you have agreed–expicitly or implicitly–to share parental rights. You didn’t have to do it, but you did it and then you must live with the consequences.

          The reason this is like the babysitter question is the key thing is do you know–do we know–when the new person has assumed a parental role. I have to admit that there may be close cases. And there are also cases (this is one) that are contested–which is to say, the parties disagree about it. (It isn’t necessarily true that contested cases are close cases–people sometimes seem to have such dramatically different version of what happened–which is to say they are contested–but each version might lead to an obvious answer–which is to say they aren’t close.)

          Anyway, I think we are actually pretty clear about when a person takes on a parental role, even though I have trouble articulating it. It’s something about being all in–the kind of commitment you make, the presence you have. And in terms of this specific case? The judge heard a lot of testimony and concluded that this was a parental role for five years or so. If you agreed with the finding, does that make the outcome of the case seem any more palatable?

          • Ultimately no, I still find the outcome awful, because it’s still a he said/she said situation where the judge had to decide who had a more believable story, and the outcome is that someone who was indisputably a legal parent has lost very significant rights. And I don’t think parental rights should come down to that. I think there should have to be a formal process which is one of the things I think we majorly disagree on. And especially in states that DO have a legal process available for that (which the state in this case does), I think parents who refuse to allow that should have their exclusive rights protected.

            In a long term relationship, the child will be spending many years living with their parent’s spouse or partner. So obviously a parent would want their child to have a good relationship with someone they are going to have to live with for years. And I think there should be a way to do that while still keeping exclusive parental rights.

            • I take it you mean that there should be a formal process by which a person becomes a parent? Though presumably not always–the woman who gives birth would automatically become a parent, maybe? Anyone else? Her spouse?

              You are right to suggest that there is something larger we disagree on. Even if second-parent adoption, say, is available there will always be people who don’t complete one. Generally the people who fail to complete them will, I’m afraid, but less educated and less wealthy. Thus, a formal only system ends up disproportionaly disadvanatging thsoe who begin with disadvantages.

              And although formal-only systems would clearly benefit lawyers (and I teach law school, so that’s good in my view) it seems to me an unreasonable burden on everyone involved. (Actually, this leads me to wonder again about whether in your view all other people besides the woman who gives birth would have to engage in a formal process–including spouses.) Imagine a situation where the two members of the couple agreed entirely that the second should also be a parent but didn’t do the formal part. Then the one legal parent dies or something. Don’t we want a system that can recognize the second parent in that case?

              And then there really is the bottom line. What’s at stake here is how you strike a balance. I think it is a balance between the formal rights of parents and the recognition of how people have actually been living. I’m clearly more willing to tolerate the occasional unhappy legal parent then you are, but that is in part because I think it’s not hard for a legal parent to avoid this situation. You just cannot coparent with someone else if you don’t intend for the other person to be a coparent.

              Which takes us back to the question: Is it clear what a parent (or coparent) as opposed to a babysitter is?

          • And one more thing – you say parent vs babysitter. But I’d say a loving, caring step parent who has a very good relationship with the child may be somewhere in the middle. So where does it cross the line? If the step parent buys the child some things, but the parent takes care of the majority of the financial responsiblities, is that taking on a parental role that the legal parent can’t veto if the relatioship ends? If the couple evenly splits the costs of the general running of the household from their incomes (rent, electricity, etc), is that supporting the child, since the child lives there too?

            • Ah–this would be the hardest part for me. It is quite likely that there are or would be hard cases. (There’s no suggestion that this is one, though.) So then the question is, what do you do about them? I think there are several possibilities. You could say (and this might be where you are heading?) that since there will be these hard cases, you steer clear of the entire area and draw a clear line–no rights to the whole category of people. That maximized the protection of the first parent, I think. But it also comes at a cost–or at least, something I see as a cost. There will be cases (like this one) where the first parent completely severs a psychological parent/child relationship for no good reason apart from spite. In those cases, the child will suffer harm–potentially quite lasting and serious harm. We have to guess about how frequently you’d get hard cases and how frequently you’d get the bad outcome I just described and then you have to decide how you weigh those situations.

              A different way to approach it (which I think I’m more comfortable with) is to acknowledge that there will be hard cases and that in those instances, legal parents may indeed have their rights infringed. But there will also be cases that are not hard and we’ll get those right and in those cases, we’ll protect the child from the harm described above. Again, you have to guess at the frequency of the two sets of events and figure out how you weight them in your own mind. It’s just a different calculus.

              What we both have to admit, I think, is that in either system there will be bad outcomes. They are different bad outcomes (one is harm to the first legal parent, the other is harm to the child). But neither system can be perfect.

              BTW, I still object to characterizing the second woman as a step-parent here. I just don’t think she fits the common definition, any more than a husband who’s wife uses third-party sperm doesn’t. You might respond that he, too, is a step-parent, but i don’t think that is the way most people think about it.

              • I would consider him akin to an adoptive parent because he did complete the legal procedure (however inadequate in my view) to be legally recognized as parent (the consent to the insemination and assumption of paternal responsibility).

                • Could the same rationale be used to entitle a lesbian partner then? Is the key thing that there needs to be some sort of consent to insemination before the deed is done? Or undertaking of responsiblity?

                  I am not sure it is helpful to consider it adoption. There’s no home study and no involvement with a judge. There’s also no court order, and so the portability of the status might be doubtful–if you travelled to a state with different law.

                  Finally, when you do something like a second parent adoption (which is akin to an adoption), there is usually some sort of explicit waiver of parental rights by the first parent. I mean there is some clear acknowledgement and agreement that her rights are being diminished. There’s nothing like that in the circumstances with the man, either. This distinction seems like it should matter to you.

                  • I agree that the procedure is completely different but ultimately we end up with the same status.
                    the situations are different, i think.
                    if no consent is signed, the husband will anyway be assumed to be the father by virtue of the marital presumption- unless he challenges it.
                    The point of the consent is to specifically prevent the husband from changing his mind and challenging it later on.
                    we may disagree as to whether that is a worthy goal or not. (I happen not to think its fair but that’s me.)
                    but 2 women can not be presumed at all to both be parents at the time of birth. At the absolute minimum, depending on the locale, there would also be a holding out period after the birth. (woefully inadequate as well in my opinion). so I don’t think any consent before the birth matters.
                    (although I suppose in a he-said-she-said case it could help to establish intent.)

                  • I guess I do not see why we accord a male partner/spouse who we know is not genetically related to the child greater privileges than a female partner/spousee who we know is not genetically related to the child. Or maybe I’ve misunderstood your stance?

                    I get the point about intent, but typically in law intent can be established by conduct as well as by a signed writing. Of course there is more room for disagreement about conduct–the he said/she said problem. And conduct can be ambiguous. (Writings can, too.) But still, we often do allow intent to be shown by conduct and you could say that is what is going on here. So for instance, if I send out birth announcments with both our names on it, I do think that evidences some intent about who you are in a child’s life.

              • Well, when there is a dispute, I’d prefer the law to err on the side of the person who is indisputably a legal parent.

          • I will say that I’d find it a lot more palatable if relationships like that (ones that were not legally official) made the person entitled to say, some limited daytime visitation, but not legal custody or the right to make significant decisions for the child’s welfare.

            • I agree with Rebecca 100%. Julie don’t you recall the story about the mother who went to prison and her parents raised her child? You thought the woman in prison was clearly the parent and I was surprised you thought that because her parents were acting like parents to their grandchild. You often think no other relationship status sticks when a person starts raising someone else’s kid – like the brother raising his younger siblings in that case you thought he’d become their father. We have formal procedures for this kind of thing. They are not perfect but they are there to make sure that everyone consents to what they are getting themselves into.
              Julie you get concerned about women having to deal with fathers like sharing parental rights with the father is so restrictive when you don’t want to be with him. How is it any different than sharing parental rights with a girlfriend your done with? Certainly at least the father has a permanent connection that will matter more to the child than being taken care of by someone for a few years. The child can get over never seeing a caregiver parental roll person way easier than getting over loosing half their relatives. Their family belongs to them whereas the ex girlfriend no matter how deeply commintted to the child does not.

              The thing about being an adoptive parent or a social parent is that your position in the child’s life is at the descretion of the parent(s), they have to allow for you to be there and play that roll. If the mother of the child does not want her there she should not force herself she should not have a legal right to force herself

              • I think you mean this other posting? https://julieshapiro.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/the-durability-of-motherhood/

                Part of what interested me there is that the grandparents, who cared for the child while the mother was in prison, did not think of themselves or present themselves as the parents of the child. They seem to have understood themselves to be caretakers for the parent. That understanding (and actions consistent with it throughout) are crucial to my thinking about the case. If they didn’t think they were parents, if they didn’t act like they were parents, then they weren’t parents. Instead, the maintained their daughter’s parental relationship.

                It wouldn’t have to be that way. A different set of parents could take their daughter’s place and I’d reach a different conclusion. It’s the specifics of the cases that make me think I’m being consistent.

            • It clearly worked against Smith in the end that she was unwilling to agree to any visitation between Rowell and the child. Such a position suggested that she had some other agenda in mind beside what was best for the child, given the depth and duration of the child’s relationship with Rowell.

              • indeed, i wonder if the judges would have viewed smith’s claim more seriously had she not downgraded rowells role to such an extreme extent- that of babysitter- instead of perhaps using the step parent analogy. guess i’ll have to read the decision you just posted.

  4. Step children are created prior to the existence of the current relationship. This child was created after the two women became a couple. I really don’t see step parenting to be relevant in this case.

    I fail to understand why gay & lesbian people enter into parenting arrangements in which their legal rights aren’t established from the get-go. By doing this, you are placing yourself & your child at significant risk should the adult relationship turn sour. I would absolutely insist on, at least temporarily, relocating to a state where legal parentage rights can be established for both parties.

    • While the partner could not legally adopt the child, there was a legal process by which the biological mother could agree to permanently share rights and responsibilities for the child, by submitting documents to be approved by the court. This never happened in this case. Either because bio mom refused or her partner didn’t care. But they could have doen that and chose not to.

    • I agree about your step parent point. I knew I’d read this somewhere in the comments–and it was you.

      Sometimes people do not fully realize how important legal parentage is. It’s a tragedy.

      • Agreed. I would expect gay & lesbian parents, particularly those residing in unfriendly states like Ohio (or the king of unfriendly – Florida), to give more thought to the legality issues, especially when you consider that LGBT couples don’t have accidental or unexpected pregnancies.

        I commend lawyers who can work and study this field. They must have good coping skills as I would find custody disputes to be very depressing, as a general rule.

        • I’m judging only by the news article but I noticed it said that there was a shared parenting agreement and that there was an enforcement action on that, too. Perhaps that was the best that they could do at the time. Not everyone can pick up and move to a more hospitable state.

          I share your admiration for lawyers who work in the field and I know they dearly wish that people would take legal action before trouble arises, but it just isn’t always the way it works out.

          • From what I read there was the OPTION for an enforceable shared parenting ageement – meaning a document submitted to the court that would outline the permanent rights & responsiblities to the child – which would then be submitted to the court and become enforceable upon acceptance. That was a legal option in Ohio starting 1-2 years before the birth of this child. The couple in this case never did that – the mother says because she refused to do so, I don’t know if her former partner gave her own reason for why they didn’t do that.

            • I actually have the magistrate’s opinion but I need to see if there is a reason I cannot post it before I do. There are two key points I think I can just state, however. First, the facts were totally in dispute. The magistrate found that Smith and her witnesses were not credible and had no objective support and creditted Rowell and her witnesses and so the facts were found to be as Rowell presented them. This is one of those credibility findings I don’t think we have any basis to question given the information we have.

              Second, as I read the opinion, under Ohio law a parent can enter into an agreement to share permanant custody with a non-parent if she chooses to do so. If she makes such an agreement, she is bound by it–which I think means she cannot change her mind later. The court here finds that on the totality of the facts, Smith made such an agreement.

              This may not satisfy you because it isn’t a formal in-writing agreement, but it’s actually not uncommon to find the existence of contracts (which are just agreements) based on conduct.

              The parties disagree about why no formal action was taking–with one saying they just didn’t get around to it and the other saying it was intentional.

              I will post the opinion (which has many pages of discussion of facts) if I find it is permissible to do so.

  5. “step children are created prior to the existence of the current relationship”

    while that is most often (although not always) the case, it has no bearing on the legal status of the step parent.

    • But if that isn’t the key to what makes a person a step-parent, what is?

      • holding a parental role by virtue of the relationship with the child’s parent

        • I’m not sure I agree. Most married men are legal fathers because they are married to women who give birth (the marital presumption), but we don’t think of them as stepchlidren. I really do think step-parents has something to do with order. If the adult relationship exists first and then a child or children are brought into that relationship that one thing–if the parent/child relationship exists first and then a new adult is brought in, that’s the other (the step-parent.) In these planned lesbian families, I just don’t think step-parent is the right analogy.

          In all events, I think we are really just talking about analogies and how we as individual use the terms, right? It’s not a well-defined legal category.

          • I don’t think planning matters squat; nor should it. Thats where the court got it wrong.
            It is uncommon but it happens that heterosexual relationships begin while a woman is already pregnant. You brought up such a case yourself.
            Relatively more common, a relationship begins when the child is still an infant. 5 years later, the child will have no memory of this person not being their parent. the two situations are 100% equal. a step parent is a step parent is a step parent. all this garbage about planning, cutting the cord, and attending dr’s appointments is meaningless.

      • A step parent is simply a parent’s legal married spouse, and doesn’t always become a second parent, it depends on the other parent. I’m sure it’s not entirely unknown for the step parent to have been in the relationship with their spouse prior to the spouse becoming a parent with someone else. If that other interloper doesn’t give up his custody and parenting rights, then that means the other guy can only be a step parent.

        • I’m mostly inclined to agree with you. The only reservation I’d have is there are what I’d call quasi-step-parents, who would be partners (longish-term) of legal parents. As I’ve said, and I think you are agreeing, order is one guide for me. If there is a parent/child duo and then another adult comes along and joins, I think of that as step-parent, or at least step-parent-like. If the adults are a duo first and then a child is brought into the mix, I don’t think of that as step-parent like. So if one person from a couple adopts because only one of them can (because they aren’t legally married, say) they may both start parenthood at the same time even though only one of them has legal rights.

          I think this matters because the social/emotional/psychological dynamics are different from when a new adult joins an existing parent/child relationship.

  6. activities that occurred before the child’s birth in my opinion should have no bearing on the case.

  7. and here we go again with this “cutting the cord” mystique. It is apparent that judges don’t spend much time in the delivery room. They’d quickly realize that this very simple act (which is actually mostly done by the medical professional before that final cut is made) is entirely undeserved of this mystical power they seem to endow it with.
    I might add that the majority of fathers do not cut the cord at birth.

    • You’re right about the attention paid to cutting the cord. But I think it does have social signifigance. If you were going to ask someone else to cut the cord, it would hardly be a random passerby. It’s an act fraught with social meaning. Thus, agreeing that someone does it tells you something about the relationship between the parties and it may even confirm something about the expected relationship between the adult and child involved.

    • I suspect cord cutting became all important about the time “parenting” (as author Nora Ephron describes it) became a participle.

  8. This is the kind of case that underscores the need to record the identity of gamete donors as parents of their offspring making them fully responsible for supporting their offspring to adulthood unless they relinquish that obligation in court to someone who is willing to accept that responsibility formally as an adoptive parent.

    The child should be entitled to both genetic parents support the way all other children are entitled to both genetic parent’s support (think paternity suits that turn on a positive paternity test). The child is not entitled to be supported by the mother’s girlfriend even if she was there to cut the cord and kiss her boo-boos. This case could easily have played out the other way and Roswell could have gotten fed up with Smith for some reason and decided to move out and move on with her life with only an occasional birthday card to the child and frankly, cold as it might be, it would have been her right because it is not her child to care for. Smith could have sued her in court for child support and from the sounds of it Smith could have one and honestly I find that to be frightening for people who might care very much for their partner’s children but who don’t necessarily want to be financially liable for supporting them if they decide to move on with their lives.

    • I disagree (no surprise). there is nothing to be gained in trying to resolve this case in introducing the man who provided sperm. Perhaps some day the child will want to meet him, but he’s surely not the answer here. Smith already thinks there’s too many parents here.

      For what it is worth, I wouldn’t let either Rowell or Smith simply walk away at this point. They are both parents to this child. Everything I’ve read about emotional development and attachment theory supports that. (I’m assuming the facts are as the judge found them.) I think we ought to recognize the lived reality of the child’s life.

  9. The difference between being a parent and a babysitter is huge.

    People with offspring are parents and they are obligated to raise the offspring that they are responsible for creating.

    Babysitters are not responsible for having created the child they are caring for. Babysitters are only obligated to the extent that they made a promise to watch the child for a specific and finite duration of time even if it is to be repetative every day they have a period of time where the child is not their charge. They are paid or they are doing the parent a favor. A parent is not doing anyone a favor by raising their own child.

    Most importantly and here is the bottom line – a parent needs no permission to be a parent. Nobody had to step down step aside or aquessece in order for a parent to be a parent. They are the first order of authority because the child originated from them. Anyone besides the other creator of the child that enjoys a social parenting roll in the child’s life is there at the discression of the parents who created the child.

    In this case the partner had one parent’s permission but not the other expressly although his absence is a form of permission, it lacks that certain certainty that comes with signed consent though. Yes I know he was never a legal parent. I’m just saying it would be nice if people got their written consent and filed it with a court.

    • I can see that if you go with genetics as a basis for who is a parent then the babysitter/parent question changes. I guess I need to rephrase. Suppose you do not know anything about the genetics of the people involved. Can you tell the difference between parents and babysitters? I think you can.

      • I think there’s a big difference between parents and babysitters, but I don’t see those as the only two categories. I’d say there’s a third category in the middle – people who may have a very loving and caring and close relationship with the child, and who may do some of the things parents do, such as taking the child on special outings, attending school events, buying special gifts for the child, helping to pay for some expenses, etc, but that aren’t parents. People such as grandparents, aunts and uncles, stepparents, godparents, etc. And I’d go so far as to say that in certain situations, those people should, if their role is significant enough, be entitled to some limited visitation, but not custody or the legal right to make significant decisions for the child.

  10. Smith’s claim that this ruling is a danger to single parents is absurd, at best, particularly in light of last year’s ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court.

    I hope that Smith appeals this case to the Ohio Supreme Court. Would be interesting to see how this ruling would be reconciled with the one issue by the Ohio Supreme Court last year.

  11. Parent:
    * “Mommy”, “Mama”, “Papa” “Daddy”, etc.
    * Has significant family contact with child over a period of years
    * Has signed any document in place of the custodial parent
    * Has assumed a large portion of financial burden in the raising of said
    child, including but not limited to food, clothing, shelter, utilities, and

    * Has a limited period of contact with child.
    * Has no assumption of financial burden to child beyond wanting to
    provide a “more interesting” atmosphere.
    * Does not have, at any point in child’s life, custodial parent’s permission
    to sign a document in absentee of the custodial parent in regards to the
    child’s welfare.
    * Child does not repeatedly refer to person as “momma” or “daddy” after
    the age of three (given the child is a mentally well-functioning human).

    These are what qualifies a parent or a babysitter.

  12. I am intrigued by your discussion here most notably because it appears to be very respectful of other’s viewpoints unlike many other blogs I have seen on this case and on this issue. My name is Julie Smith. I am the biological mother who is at the center of this controversy and I can assure you, the facts are not as they have been portrayed. In fact, this does not have to be a case of he said, she said at all – one only has to look at the physical evidence alone to conclude that Rowell was never a parent, never thought of herself as a parent, my daughter never thought of her as a parent nor did she assume any responsibilities that one might think of as strictly “parental”. Things like financial support (the Magistrate ignored 252 pages of physical objective evidence like canceled checks, bank statements, credit card statements, etc that proved she did not pay for anything to live in my home other than her own living expenses), planning for my daughter’s future (the Magistrate ignored the significance of the fact that I met with a financial planner-alone- after the birth of my daughter to plan for her future, that I alone contributed to college savings plans, that I alone carried life insurance on my daughter, that I alone increased my life insurance to make certain my daughter was taken care of in the event of my death), the Magistrate minimized the importance of the fact that Rowell did not even name my daughter (or me for that matter) as a beneficiary on her life insurance, deferred compensation or retirement accounts but instead listed her brother and nieces and nephews. The Magistrate boldly sates in her decision that my daughter called Rowell by her first name – Julie – and ignored the fact that Rowell swore under oath to the contrary stating that my daughter called her Mama Julie – a fact disputed by Rowell’s own mother’s testimony. The Magistrate finds that my daughter referred to Rowell’s extended family members as Grandma, Grandpa, Aunts and Uncles, yet Rowell’s own mother again refuted that stating that my daughter referred to her by her first name as opposed to “grandma” like her real grandchildren. Also, I would like to inform you of the truth regarding why I cut off contact between Rowell and my daughter. First, you should know that Rowell consulted with an attorney and filed for shared custody of my daughter while living in my home and having DAILY contact with my daughter. There was no reason for her to seek shared custody as nothing had changed with respect to my daughter and Rowell. Nor was the threat there. In fact, I paid for a mediator to work with us to resolve an acceptable visitation schedule after our break up but, unbeknownst to me, Rowell had already consulted with a lawyer and demanded custody of my daughter – something I never agreed to in the previous 5 years of our relationship. Second, I never attempted to terminate contact between my daughter and Rowell until I learned that she filed this lawsuit and for several months prior to filing the lawsuit, she had been asking my daughter (then 5) to start calling her “mom” and to start calling her parents “grandma and grandpa”. This manipulation of my innocent child was confusing and upsetting to her thus, I limited contact – just as I would expect any other parent to do – just as is a parent’s God given right and responsibility.
    I certainly welcome the opportuntiy to have additional dialogue with ANYONE on this subject and am willing to share any and all evidence so that individuals can see what is really going on here. It is indeed a sad sad case of a child being exploiting for a cause that is not even an issue in this case. This is not about gay marriage, this is not about gay adoption. This case is about a mother, a good mother, being able to make conscious decisions for her child and those decisions being respected regardless of the mother’s sexual orientation. This case is about privacy and the right to define your relationships and your family without the government inviting themselves into our homes to make those decisions for us. This case is about a little girl who just wants peace, who just wants what every other child wants, the safety and security of knowing that no matter what, her mother will protect her. Her mother is trying but for whatever reason, is being denied that right.

    • I do work hard to try to keep discussion civil here, so I appreciate your vote of confidence. It’s certainly common for allegations in these cases to be contested. It’s also nearly impossible for readers far from the scene to discern what is true and what is not. It’s simpler to assume, for the sake of discussion, that a judge’s conclusions about the facts are correct and then to think about the logic of the law applied to those facts. Of cousre, if the judge has the facts wrong then it’s quite likely the conclusions could be wrong, too. I’m just not convinced we can profitably discuss the facts here.

  13. The question is, what would happen if Smith(the one who gave birth) finds another partner in life? The child would have 3 parents then?

    To answer your question, the difference between a babby sitter and a parent is that the first gets paid to do the baby sitting and the latter is not. But the problem is girlfriend can do that too. What is a parent? When does one become one?

    • These are reasonable and complicated questions. There are some simple answers–the mere fact that someone might enter into a relationship with a person already a parent won’t make the new person a parent. But you are right to wonder if there is a point at which the person might become a parent.

      Formal adoption is one avenue. That has some advantages–we know if it happens, we know when it happens, we can ascertain that everyone is on the same page about intending it to happen.

      But is there a way other than adoption? That’s too large a topic to discuss here in the comments. It’s come up in the past on the blog, I think, and it’s certainly worthy of thought.

      My answer (which is consistent with lots that is on the blog here or there) is that I think there need to be informal ways of establishing parentage. We need to recognize the reality of children’s lives even if the adults have not gone through formal process. Suppose a mother has a one-month-old when she begins a relationship and her new partner fully embraces the role of parent for twelve years–with the consent and approval and support of all those around the mother and child. Then suppose the original mother dies. I think the law ought to recognize the relationship between the surviving partner and the child. The hard part is figuring out where to draw the lines.

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