Skip to Main Content

Need help understanding your rights as an LGBTQ+ person or someone living with HIV? Click here to visit our virtual Help Desk.

Case seeking to maintain a joint custody agreement between two lesbian parents despite Ohio’s antigay amendment


Therese Fairchild lived in a relationship with her partner, Denise Fairchild, for many years before the two women decided to have a child. They jointly planned their child’s conception, and in 1996 Denise gave birth to their son. To ensure that Therese had a protected legal relationship with the child, the two women entered into a court-approved joint custody agreement in 2001. Years after signing the agreement the couple’s relationship ended, and Denise has attempted to keep the boy from Therese by arguing, among other things, that Ohio’s antigay constitutional amendment banning marriage between same-sex couples invalidates the court’s shared custody order. In January 2007, a judge ruled that a custody agreement between two lesbian parents is valid and enforceable despite Ohio’s antigay amendment.


Ohio voters passed an amendment to the state’s constitution in 2004, prohibiting marriage between same-sex couples. But it said nothing about parent-child relationships. Additionally, more than one hundred years of case law in Ohio make clear that a shared custody agreement between a biological and nonbiological parent is valid and enforceable.

Lambda Legal’s Impact

This case clarifies that parent-child relationships in Ohio are not affected by the state’s antigay constitutional amendment that prohibits marriage between same-sex couples. On a more specific level, it means that a biological parent cannot use the antigay amendment to attack the relationship between a nonbiological parent and a child. Beyond solidifying the body of law binding gay and lesbian parents with their children, this case successfully highlights the importance of keeping antigay amendments in check.

    • March 2001 Denise Fairchild and Therese Leach petition jointly for and obtain a court order establishing shared legal custody of the child they had parented together from his birth in 1996.
    • February 2005 Denise Fairchild moves to terminate Therese Leach’s custody of their son, arguing among other things that the antigay constitutional amendment that passed in Ohio in 2004 invalidated Fairchild’s court-approved agreement to share custody of the boy with Leach.
    • June 2006 Magistrate Krippel rules that the custody agreement is valid and enforceable and that the antigay amendment has no impact on its enforceability.
    • January 2007 Judge Squire upholds the magistrate’s ruling concerning the enforceability of the shared custody agreement and remands the case to the magistrate for further proceedings.
    • June 2007 Magistrate Krippel again upholds the shared custody agreement.
    • October 2007 Judge Geer upholds the enforceability of the shared custody agreement a final time and Fairchild appeals.
    • June 2008 The Tenth District Ohio Appeals Court rules that Fairchild should never have been permitted to attack the enforceability of the shared custody agreement with Leach.
    • July 2008 Denise Fairchild asks the Ohio Supreme Court to hear her case. Lambda Legal urges the Court to refuse.
    • December 2008 Victory! The Ohio Supreme Court lets stand the appeals court ruling affirming the enforceability of the court-approved custody agreement.