Without hearing their side, a Franklin County judge stripped a Westerville couple of their parental rights this week by allowing their 17-year-old daughter to marry her boyfriend against their wishes.
"The judge stole my daughter," said Elizabeth "Lisa" Squeglia. "I'm outraged. I can't even mother her. I can't say 'goodnight' to her. I can't hold her. I can't hug her. I can't give her any advice."
Gabrielle Squeglia, who is 17 and about two months pregnant, was married after a court hearing on Tuesday to Dustin Mitchell Goldman, also 17.
The marriage effectively emancipates the teens from their parents. Each turns 18 in a few months.
But those are crucial months, Mrs. Squeglia said. She said she'd prefer to help her daughter establish her independence and seek counseling at this time.
The decision by Probate Judge Alan S. Acker is unusual, legal experts said. But the boy's father called the judge's actions "courageous."
According to Acker's ruling, Gabrielle believed she would be forced to have an abortion if she remained at home
Mrs. Squeglia said she discovered that her daughter had married about 2:15p.m. Tuesday when she arrived at Westerville North High School, where both teens are seniors. Gabrielle wasn't at her usual pickup spot, so the mother went to the office.
The principal, who'd heard that the couple had married, phoned the judge; Acker confirmed it.
Acker did not return phone calls or e-mails requesting comment for this story. But his ruling says he relied solely on the testimony of the teenagers and the groom's parents, Goldman and his wife, Kelli.
According to Acker's entry, testimony demonstrated that "Gabrielle is currently living in a volatile home where Gabrielle fears for her and her unborn child's physical and mental health and safety."
Gabrielle's parents said they were never told of a hearing and never got to tell their side.
Acker's ruling says, "Testimony was given that both Gabrielle and the principal and social worker at Westerville North High School have contacted Children Services several times out of concern for Gabrielle's safety and well-being."
The school district did make a report - once - to Franklin County Children Services on Oct. 1, spokesman Greg Viebranz said, adding that they have a duty to report any claim of abuse. Mrs. Squeglia said her daughter recently made the claim to a school social worker.
But Children Services dismissed the complaint Oct. 7.
Kathyrn Mercer, a family-law expert at Case Western Reserve University's law school, found it strange that Acker didn't allow the girl's parents to address allegations before issuing his decision.
She also questioned why the court wouldn't refer the case to Children Services or Juvenile Court if Acker had thought that the girl was in danger.
Goldman said that he and his wife are supporting the young couple, who are living with them, doing well in school and planning to attend college.
Daniel Squeglia said his wife has never hit or threatened their daughter, and said they didn't want her to marry before she turns 18 in January.
His wife said she never pushed her daughter toward an abortion and recently saw a priest for guidance.The Rev. Michael Watson, of St. Andrew Church in Upper Arlington, confirmed that Mrs. Squeglia phoned Wednesday, worried that her daughter had married so young and asking for help.