Ohio Bill Would Make Shared Parenting the Default for Child Custody Cases / Public News Service

By Halena Sepulveda at Kent State University
Broadcast version by Mary Schuermann reporting for the Kent State-Ohio News Connection Collaboration.

The passing of a bill currently making its way through the Ohio Legislature would change the way the court system handles child custody cases by making a shared parenting agreement the new anticipated outcome.

Around 10% of Ohio child custody cases involve court intervention. Under current state law those cases have two possible outcomes: with sole custody assigned to one parent, who is then considered the residential parent and has the power to make decisions on behalf of the child; or with a shared parenting agreement that considers each parent a residential parent, giving them both the authority to make decisions about their children. Presently neither option is considered the default outcome in the eyes of the court.

If passed, House Bill 508 would allot equal residential time to both parents as the default. In order to argue for sole custody, parents would have to demonstrate clear and convincing evidence that a shared parenting agreement would not be in the best interest of the children.

The bill “had 59 co-sponsors when we signed it, which is unheard of,” said Rep. Rodney Creech, R-West Alexandria, who introduced the bill in December along with Rep. Thomas West, D-Canton.

HB 508 had its third hearing before the Legislature’s Civil Justice committee on April 5.

Ohioans in support of HB 508 argue that children do best when both parents are involved in their lives, and that children raised in single-parent households face a higher risk of the negative impacts of instability.

“When it comes to teen violence and teen pregnancy and drug abuse and delinquency and incarceration rates among youth, we know that the common thing [among] all of these children in troubled youth is they’re lacking…a significant relationship with one of their parents,” said Elizabeth McNeese, co-chair of the National Parents Organization affiliate in Ohio, an organization focused on promoting shared parenting after divorce .

Some domestic violence organizations in Ohio, however, fear the effects of HB 508 could cause potential risk to children who are already exposed to domestic violence.

“The 10% [of parents] that do go and litigate, the majority of them, there are reports of some kind of domestic violence or family violence,” said Danielle Pollack, policy manager at the National Family Violence Law Center at The George Washington University.

Pollack said many of the cases that require court intervention are “high conflict” cases, which more often involve a history of domestic violence. These high conflict cases are the major concern for those in opposition to HB 508.

“We don’t want a presumption of 50/50,” said Nancy Fingerhood, a member of the National Safe Parents Coalition. “Because these are the cases where you’ll end up giving more access to the abuser.”

Supporters of the bill argue HB 508 acknowledges not all cases should start with the anticipated outcome of shared parenting.

“We recognize, and the bill also recognizes, that there are situations that equal parenting is absolutely not appropriate,” McNeese said. “Domestic violence, child abuse, neglect, those are reasons to rebut that equal presumption.”

Creech said many parents who litigate child custody cases do so in an effort to fight for equal or increased time with their children. Because child custody battles are often a battle for equal time, supporters of the bill argue HB 508 would help reduce the number of child custody battles overall.

“Good parents should not have to spend 70, 80, 90 thousand dollars just to remain a parent,” McNeese said.

Although HB 508 would set a presumed outcome for child custody cases, the bill also explicitly states the factors and scenarios, such as incidents of domestic violence or neglect, that would contest the presumption of equal parenting.

But language in the bill could make it harder for parents to prove domestic violence than it is now.

HB 508 requires the state to raise the standard of evidence for domestic violence in child custody cases, from a “preponderance of evidence” to “clear and convincing” evidence. This would require victims of domestic violence to demonstrate a history of proven abuse to the judge in order to appeal the anticipated outcome of shared parenting.

Creech said legislation similar to HB 508 enacted in other states is having a positive effect on child custody issues and related court battles.

For instance, Kentucky’s state house passed HB 528 in 2018.

Since then, “domestic violence is down, child abuse is down, court cases are down 16%,” Creech said. “So, if this was a bad bill, we would be noticing it in Kentucky after it’s been in place for four years.”

This collaboration is produced in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the George Gund Foundation.

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Parents Anonymous, part of the nonprofit Raising the Future, just got a grant from the federal government to the tune of $1 million. President Joe Biden recently signed a congressional budget resolution that included the funds, proposed by Congresswoman Judy Chu. dr Lisa Pion-Berlin is CEO of Parents Anonymous, which runs the California Parent and Youth Helpline.

“They may be suffering from mental-health issues, behavioral problems in school,” Pion-Berlin observed. “Parents have lost their jobs. They can call the California Parent and Youth Helpline 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and join online evidence-based Parents Anonymous groups.”

People can call the helpline at 855-427-2736 or go to The funding will support mental health services for the empowerment journey of Asian, Latino, African American and other populations.

Pion-Berlin noted she would love to see federal legislation to fund a national parent and youth helpline modeled after the program in California.

“Mostly the federal government funds crisis lines. Suicide, runaways, domestic violence,” Pion-Berlin pointed out. “All important, but that’s when people are in the throes of these problems. This is prevention.”

The California Parent and Youth Helpline has served more than 32,000 people since its founding in May 2020.

Disclosure: Parents Anonymous contributes to our fund for reporting on Children’s Issues, Family/Father Issues, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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As National Parent Leadership Month draws to a close, advocates are calling on lawmakers – who are writing the new state budget – to fund programs that support families’ emotional health.

In January, Governor Gavin Newsom’s budget proposal included 4-point-7 million dollars to fund the Parents Anonymous helpline, but the group is asking for double that amount.

Antonia Rios is a California mom who went to work for Parents Anonymous after benefiting first-hand from its counseling service. She’s now a senior parent partner and a chair of national and California parent leadership teams with the group.

“The help, support, strength and hope my children and I received changed our lives for the better,” said Rios. “We are resilient. The circle of violence has been broken in my family.”

Parents and youths can call the helpline at 855-4-A-PARENT or sign up for free weekly online support groups. The Parents Anonymous helpline, run by the nonprofit Raising the Future, has answered more than 1.5 million calls since it was established in May 2020.

Arizona State University teacher and researcher Elizabeth Harris PhD co-authored a study in the journal Child and Health Services Review, that found that the helpline and support groups are making a dent in child abuse and neglect.

“And that evaluation showed that her program substantially reduced the number of parents who ended up in the child welfare system and the number of children who ended up in the child welfare system,” said Harris.

The group also helped lobby for an extension of COVID-related paid sick leave. The legislature has until June to approve the state budget.

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Parents’ rights groups are praising a plan to extend paid sick leave for many California workers, which is now on a fast track to pass.

gov. Gavin Newsom announced a deal with legislative leaders Tuesday on a bill to require businesses with 26 employees or more to offer two weeks of paid sick leave to recover from COVID or care for a sick family member.

Matthew Kijak, director of programs at the nonprofit Raising the Future, part of Parents Anonymous, which runs the California Parent Youth Helpline, said people should not lose their pay if they or their kids test positive.

“So it’s really, really important that we respect the role that parents play who are basically the heroes of this entire pandemic,” Kijak asserted. “And honor that by allowing them to stay home to take care of their children who may be suffering from coronavirus.”

A similar extension of sick leave during COVID expired last September. The proposal would be retroactive to cover sick days taken since Jan. 1 and would come to an end on Sep. 30. Full-time workers would qualify for 40 hours of leave, plus another 40 if they show a positive COVID test. Part-timers would get the number of hours off they normally work.

Opponents complain the extended sick leave will be borne entirely by businesses, many of which are still struggling after the pandemic shutdowns. To help soften the blow on companies, the deal would restore some tax deductions and expand some tax credits.

Kijak argued workers’ health must be the priority.

“Business is important,” Kijak acknowledged. “But compared to having employees come to work with coronavirus, and, God forbid, die, it’s not a comparison at all. Whatever we have to spend to keep Californians safe needs to be spent.”

Without the change, workers in California would only have three state-mandated days of paid sick leave. The bill is expected to be written and sent to a vote in the coming weeks.

Disclosure: Parents Anonymous contributes to our fund for reporting on Children’s Issues, Family/Father Issues, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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