Native legislator seeks equal parenting to be Ohio’s default arrangment

State Representative Thomas West wants to change the law of the state so that more divorced fathers can be as involved in the lives of their children as mothers.

The Ohio Legislative Service Commission is drafting law that will require family court judges to believe that equal parenting is in the best interests of the child, said West, who represents Canton and Massillon. The standard arrangement would be two parents, divorced or separated, who share custody and decision-making power over their children equally.

The state legislature said if its bill goes into effect, judges could only further restrict how much time parents can spend with their child or limit their role in their child’s life if someone can prove that it is not in the child’s best interests parents have equal custody of both.

“And we know if both parents are in your child’s life, you have a better chance that child will succeed in life,” West said. “Unless there are other factors why that person shouldn’t get 50/50, it should start with 50/50 custody.”

West stressed that his bill would not affect child benefit payment obligations.

Fathers are often referred to as bad guys

The cantonal legislature, who has served on the Ohio Commission on Fatherhood for the past four years, said Ohio’s current system normally gives primary custody of children to the mother. And the system often throws down the father as the villain and the mother and children as victims.

West added that, for now, the bill would only address situations where a married couple, including married same-sex couples, would divorce or separate. This does not apply to situations in which the parents were never married.

“We’ll address that at a later date,” he said.

If the parents divorce or separate, applicable Ohio law requires family court judges to designate a residential and custodial parent and a non-custodial parent for their children if neither parent is seeking co-parenting or the judge determines that co-parenting is not in the best interests of the child.

West said he heard from fathers who alleged courts wrongly denied them access to their children, prompting him to come up with a bill.

West, a Democrat, said he would become a joint sponsor of the law with State Representative Rodney Creech, a Republican from West Alexandria west of Dayton.

Creech told the Dayton Daily News last month that he had fought for years in court for equal custody of his children.

With the proposed law, “instead of having to prove you are a good parent, the courts have to prove you are a bad parent,” Creech told the newspaper.

West said he and Creech were hoping to get the bill ready by Father’s Day on June 20. The Legislative Service Commission, which is busy working on the state budget, needs more time to complete its work on the legal language. And West said on Wednesday that the bill won’t be ready until this week at the earliest.

How is it fair?

The two lawmakers held a press conference on their legislation in Columbus last month with representatives from the National Parents Organization.

West suggested to reporters that the deterioration in urban neighborhoods was in part due to the lack of equal parenting.

“In neighborhoods where, for whatever reason, you see a line of fathers, you can see that the yards are well maintained. The houses are supplied. And what you often find is that dad is not only taking care of his home but this neighborhood too, “West said.” We believe fathers in Ohio were wrongly attacked, and now it is time to .. . Fathers back to the table. “

Founded in 1998 and headquartered in Newton, Massachusetts, the National Parents Organization is campaigning for legislative changes to promote parental equality. Several studies support their argument that joint custody agreements reduce the number of children who abuse drugs, commit suicide, or experience social ills. The group used to be known as Fathers and Families.

Ohio co-chair Elizabeth McNeese said the legislation would protect children’s emotional well-being from the many stresses of divorce.

“This unequal regulation is of no use to anyone,” she told reporters. “Our children need both parents. And they need both parents equally. When children do not have meaningful relationships with both of their parents … they are at greater risk of substance abuse, homelessness, incarceration, behavioral disorders, and suicide. They are more likely to drop out of school. They are more likely to experience abuse and neglect. And they’re more likely to become teenage parents. “

Don Hubin, chairman of the National Parents Organization’s national board of directors, said every family court in Ohio applies child custody guidelines differently.

“How could it make sense to say that it is in the best interests of the children in Tuscarawas County to have a putative equal parental leave rule with both parents and an identical family a few miles down in Stark County in the best interests of one of their parents only to see every other weekend and one evening a week when the parents split up? ” he asked.

“When you have the kids 20% of the time, parenting is difficult”

Alexander Haas, the president of the local coffee shop in Muggswigz, is the other co-chair of the National Parents Organization in Ohio.

In an interview, he said he became an equal custody activist about a decade ago after he ended his relationship with a woman he never married. She is the mother of two of his children. A visiting judge gave the mother sole custody.

Haas has since married another woman and has three more children with his wife. He said the current court ruling would allow him to see his children from the previous relationship for a few hours on Wednesday and most of Saturdays.

“When you have the kids 20% of the time … it’s hard to be a parent. It’s hard to really give a child what they need, ”said Haas.

What are other states doing?

States like Kentucky and Arkansas have the same education laws in place. A similar bill is pending in West Virginia.

But Illinois, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Florida have no law bills for equal parents. Equal parenting laws in the Ohio House and Senate in 2011 also made no headway.

Opponents of equality laws say such mandates could hurt victims of domestic violence and that judges should make custody decisions.

Paul Pfeifer, executive director of the Ohio Judicial Conference, the organization representing Ohio judges, said that once the bill is presented, a committee of domestic relations judges will review the law and “we will eventually comment.”

Pfeifer is a retired Ohio Supreme Court Justice and past chairman of the Ohio Senate Judiciary Committee.

Stark County Family Court administrative judge Jim James, a past chairman of the Ohio Judicial Conference, said he was unable to comment on the specific bill as it was pending.

“The law currently suggests or tells us that when parents ask for parental leave orders, they are assumed to have the same amount of time,” he said. “If the law suggests that parents should have the same time, it is up to the court, the judge, to come up with an opinion to explain why they did not agree. There are certainly cases in which (equal parenting) time is not appropriate for the child. “

Stark Family Court Administrator Diane Wilson said the court does not track the number of divorce, separation and custody cases affected by judges approving equal parenting plans.

Contact repository author Robert Wang at (330) 580-8327 or [email protected]. Twitter: @rwangREP.

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