Ten-year-old Ava and 10-year-old Suzie live a few miles apart. Both their sets of parents are unfortunately divorcing. Ava will likely have difficulties, but adjust pretty well while staying connected to her mom and dad. Suzie, however, will probably watch her parents fight terribly as they spend more on legal bills than necessary. Eventually, one of Suzie’s parents, most likely her dad, will basically be removed from her life.
What will cause the huge difference in the girls’ lives? Each girl loves both her parents and all the parents are good caregivers. The difference is caused, believe it or not, by the few miles between them. Ava lives in Kentucky where divorcing children get to see both parents equally. Suzie lives in Ohio where the law forces parents to fight tooth and nail to “win” custody of her if they are to continue in their full parenting role.
Kentucky’s law for divorcing families (KRS §403.280) has a presumption that both parents will have equal decision-making (“joint legal custody”) and parenting time while the family goes through the critical period of the divorce process. Decades of scientific research show this “true shared parenting” arrangement is usually best for children in separating families. Kentucky’s law excludes parents who are likely to abuse or neglect a child, of course. But for the vast majority of families, both parents — and even more importantly, the children — can be assured of a full continuing parent/child relationship.
Ohio’s child custody laws, enacted decades ago and not substantially revised since, have not kept up with the times. Not only do Ohio laws contain no presumption that both parents will continue in an equal parenting role, they don’t even clearly provide for this possibility while the parents are in the process of divorcing. Ohio’s antiquated custody statutes get families off on the wrong foot by, at the outset of a divorce, insisting on choosing one parent as the primary custodian. In other words, one of Suzie’s parents stays a real parent; the other one is pushed to the edges of her life and only gets to see her during “visitation”. Suzie wants to stay close to both of her quality parents but the state of Ohio makes this difficult unless the parents both agree to it from the outset. Ohio then tells the parents to put on their boxing gloves and fight with everything they have. When we make separated parenting a winner-takes-all process, it’s no wonder so many good people go through tough divorces.
Common sense tells us that when parents separate it’s best to keep both parents fully involved in the children’s lives. And there is now a wealth of social science strongly supporting that conclusion. For example, Dr. Linda Nielsen, a leading expert on parenting after divorce, reported, based on analysis of over 40 peer-reviewed studies, that “Recent research does not support the idea that conflict — including high legal conflict — should rule out joint physical custody as the arrangement that best serves children’s interests.” In other words, even if the parents don’t both agree to shared parenting, it’s still generally best for children.
This impressive body of research has helped to move legislation in Kentucky but not, so far, in Ohio. But there is hope for Suzie and all of Ohio’s children. As a result of the work of National Parents Organization, state lawmakers are considering updating the child custody laws. The changes being considered would help ensure that, from the outset and before the court has even looked at the family’s situation, one parent isn’t automatically relegated to the status of “visitor” in the child’s life. If that happens, fewer families will be forced into the terrible and often unnecessary custody fights we all hear about.
You can help just by sending an email.
Please contact Gov. Kasich at http://www.governor.ohio.gov/Contact/ContacttheGovernor.aspx and ask him to support shared parenting. Or email Don Hubin (firstname.lastname@example.org) and offer your help.
And why wouldn’t Gov. Kasich and the state lawmakers support shared parenting? Ohio’s southern neighbor’s House and Senate passed the law unanimously. Further, a shared parenting bill just passed Michigan’s House Judiciary Committee and appears poised to become law too. Kentucky and Michigan — our neighbors to the south and to the north — are saying that their children deserve both parents even if the parents are living apart. Let’s pass shared parenting here and say Ohio’s children deserve both parents, too
Donald C. Hubin, Ph.D., is a member of the National Board and the Chair of the Ohio Executive Committee of National Parents Organization. Matt Hale is the chair of the Kentucky Executive Committee of National Parents Organization (NPO) and is credited with spearheading Kentucky’s successful efforts to promote shared parenting.