By Courtney L. Saylor
Noting that “actions speak louder than words,” a Mercer County judge granted custody of an 11-year-old girl at the center of a lengthy, high-profile same-sex custody battle to the non-biological mother.
Lisa Lewis of Sharon said it was “awesome” to have legal full custody of the child she helped raise from birth to age 5, but said she doesn’t know if even the ruling means she’ll be able to see the girl because she doubts her former partner will comply.
“She won’t cooperate,” Lewis said of Jeannette Rowan of Oxford, Ohio.
In an order filed this week in Mercer County Common Pleas Court, Judge Christopher J. St. John said “Rowan has boxed this court and the plaintiff into a corner and leave it with no other choice but to remove this child from the defendant at this time as the primary physical custodian.”
He ordered Rowan to “immediately relinquish” custody to Lewis, who is also the girl’s biological great-aunt. Mercer County Children and Youth Services will also be involved and Rowan would have supervised partial physical custody.
On Friday, Lewis said she spent the day visiting police and county agencies in Rowan’s home town with St. John’s ruling in hand but no one seemed willing to help her get her daughter back.
“Basically, Jeannette Rowan has made a mockery out of the Mercer County Court system and the judge. From day one she has not followed a court order and there’s no consequences,” Lewis said.
“To be blunt with you, I might as well wipe my ass with this court order,” she said.
Lewis now has the court order her attorney J. Kennedy “Jarrett” Whalen said she’d need to get Ohio authorities to enforce the arrest warrant for Rowan that St. John issued in March after Rowan repeatedly failed to comply with court orders in the case.
Ohio laws regarding same-sex relationships differ from Pennsylvania’s and as of Friday night, Lewis said she hadn’t had any luck getting the order enforced.
St. John noted that the case is “complex, long-standing and extremely contemptuous.” He said his goal after Lewis was granted parental standing in 2009 was to establish a relationship between her and the girl, but Rowan “foiled” the court’s plans.
“Rowan has steadfastly refused and/or has been uncooperative with continuing the court-ordered periods of supervised visitation in Mercer County,” St. John wrote.
She refused to return to Mercer County as ordered and “willfully thwarted” efforts by the court to give the girl “the benefit of a meaningful relationship with her other pseudo-parent,” the judge said.
St. John wrote that he received lengthy reports from the supervisor of Lewis’s visitations with the girl prior to Rowan moving out of state more than two years ago and they were favorable to Lewis.
The bottom-line test is what’s best for the child and St. John found Rowan tried to turn the girl against Lewis, was unwilling to cooperate and moved the girl five hours away from her support system and a steady income.
He said Rowan’s stability is “questionable” due to her choice to uproot her daughter.
“Rowan’s shortcoming is that she has moved from domestic partner to domestic partner of their last five to seven years and has used them to her benefit,” the judge wrote, noting that Lewis has had the same partner for years, the same job for more than a decade and owns her home.
St. John wrote that his only hesitation was the girl’s medical problems, which he said Rowan used to her advantage to avoid court orders.
“She has used her intelligence and her ability to articulate the child’s conditions to fight plaintiff Lewis every step of the way only to reveal at some point that the medical condition isn’t really as bad as she had been portraying,” the order reads.
He said there’s no evidence that Lewis is not capable of caring for the girl, as well.
“There is no doubt that defendant Rowan has loved her daughter and nurtured her throughout her life and that this has been consistent,” St. John wrote. “The problem is that she has limited this love and affection and nurturing to herself which goes beyond being the child’s mother … she has gone well beyond her involvement to the exclusion of anyone else to any significant degree.”
As part of the order, St. John included requirements that Lewis make arrangements with local doctors and services for the girl’s medical care.
“I was definitely glad that the judge sees Jeannette exactly how she is, the type of person that she is: A user. A manipulator. A liar.” Lewis said.
Rowan did not return a phone message from seeking comment on the ruling.
(Courtney L. Saylor writes for The Herald in Sharon, Pa.)