A bill reforming how child custody will be determined and requiring equal parenting in child custody orders in legal separation, divorce, dissolution or annulment proceedings is being reintroduced by two Ohio lawmakers and faces ongoing opposition from critics.
State Rep. Rodney Creech, R-West Alexandria, and state Rep. Marilyn John, R-Richland County, discussed House Bill 14 — which they are co-sponsoring — during a Tuesday press conference.
Creech said the bill would “create an official state policy that ensures children have a continued and meaningful relationship with both parents and, to the greatest extent possible, that parents share equally in time and responsibility.”
The bill establishes that parents share time and responsibility equally, unless there is evidence that an equal arrangement would be detrimental to the child. If such evidence is presented, the courts can use their discretion to formulate a more appropriate arrangement.
“Equal parenting should always be the starting point because a strong parent/child relationship is in the best interest of children,” John said. “House Bill 14 encourages parents to work together instead of incentivizing them to fight against each other.”
“The starting point should be equal parenting,” John said. “We have a winner/loser system here. There are children being used as pawns in the process.”
The Ohio State Bar Association and more than 80 other local, statewide and national organizations like the Ohio Judicial Conference and the Ohio Domestic Violence Network have opposed this legislation.
“We agree that the ideal situation is the involvement of both parents in the lives of their children. However, HB14 would do more harm than good by shifting the long-standing ‘best interest of the child’ standard currently employed in child custody disputes to instead placing the focus on the interests of their parents,” said Scott Lundregan, the Ohio State Bar Association’s director of policy and legislative counsel.
“’Equal parenting’ may sound good on a bumper sticker,” Lundregan said. “However, the bill doesn’t define it. Further, presuming equal parenting in all cases and positioning parties to have to rebut that standard for any variation will undoubtedly lead to increased litigation and force more parents into an adversarial stance. That would be detrimental to the child and all involved.”
Warren County Domestic Relations Judge Jeff Kirby, said, “This court has always recognized that a child has two parents and that they need two parents.”
Kirby, who is in his seventh year as domestic relations judge, said he looks at the hands-on care of children, expressions of love for the children, and treating the other parent respectfully. He said when there is less conflict between the parents, there is less conflict for children.
“A lot of parents do as we ask, and commit themselves to being a solution to problems rather than a contributor to them. As a result, by and large, the vast majority of our cases are closer to equal parenting than every other weekend and a weeknight, " he said.
Creech said there was a lot of bipartisan support for the bill in the previous General Assembly session where there were 59 co-sponsors.
“This is not fathers vs. mothers,” he said. “It’s common sense legislation to help our children.”
Creech said Ohio lacks statewide standards for equal parenting, despite considerable research showing its benefits.
Creech said when polled, 87% of Ohioans believe children have a right to spend equal or nearly equal time with both parents and 61% of Ohioans feel family courts don’t treat parents fairly in custody disputes.
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