New Ohio bill would set equal parenting as the default position in custody cases
A new bipartisan bill at the Ohio Statehouse would establish shared and equal parenting as the starting point in any custody plan established by a court.
The legislationis co-sponsored by Rep. Rodney Creech (R-West Alexandria). It would set a standard for courts when determining custody arrangements in divorces and other breakups.
“What our bill does is 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,” Creech said.
Co-sponsor Rep. Marilyn John (R-Richland County) said equal parenting is best for the well-being of children.
“Currently, we have a winner-loser system where children are often caught in the middle, having to choose between parents or worse yet, being used as pawns in a conflict. Until this system changes, our children will continue to be the losers,” John said.
The sponsors of the legislation say only five counties in Ohio already use equal parenting as the starting point.
“We have 88 counties doing 88 different things. A handful of counties do implement a 50/50 parenting time rule, but most restrict one parent to six to eight days a month with their child,” Creech said.
Elizabeth McNeese, chair of the Ohio chapter of the National Parents Organization, said she supports this bill because the current law is decades old and needs to be changed.
“When parents end a relationship in Ohio, the default in law requires courts to choose one custodial parent. And there is little guidance for courts on how to handle parenting time. So, the decision falls upon a complete stranger whose expertise is in law to decide which of the two parents they feel is the best parent for that child and to decide which parent will get the most time with the child,” McNeese said.
McNeese said this approach often creates conflicts and brings out the worst in both parents. And that, she said, affects children. She said this bill removes the incentive for parents to fight.
Creech, a divorced parent himself, agreed that’s true in his case.
“Now that I have my children 50% of the time, we don’t fight over time any more. In fact, I would tell you that now we are more lenient. You know that when you are only getting your kids four to six days a month, you want that holiday if it is your holiday. But I can tell you now that I’ve had my kids 50/50 over the last few years, it’s give and take. We work together. We work together well,” Creech said.
Under this bill, parents would get children for an equal amount of time. A court would consider the distance between the parents and the practical considerations of how best to manage equal parents. And it encourages parents themselves to take the lead in deciding how to establish that equal custody agreement. Courts would still have the ability to assign guardian ad litems for the children.
And it would still have provisions for preventing unfit parents from being awarded equal custody. But Creech said they would have to be proven unfit first – not just accused, as he said is the case in many places.
"Your local community requires a higher burden of proof to remove a barking dog than your local domestic relations court requires to terminate a parent's constitutional right to raise their child," Creech said.
Creech introduced a similar bill last year with Rep. Thomas West (D-Canton), who lost his re-election bid.