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Ohio bill for automatic 50-50 child custody introduced, with same opposition as before




State Rep. Rodney Creech, R-West Alexandria, and state Rep. Marilyn John, R-Richland County, speak on a bill to change child custody cases to automatically start with 50/50 parental custody. Screenshot courtesy of The Ohio Channel

A bill automatically giving parents 50-50 child custody has been reintroduced in the Ohio House and already has some of the same opposition as a similar proposal that was introduced during the last general assembly.

The bill would change state law to automatically allow joint custody to each parent in a custody dispute. Disputes of that custody would then have to be proven with “clear and convincing” evidence, a legal standard higher than is currently used in custody cases.

The bill’s sponsors, state Reps. Rodney Creech, R-West Alexandria, and Marilyn John, R-Richland County, argue presumptive equal custody would incentivize parents to work together before getting in lengthy legal battles, and would push parents to create a co-parenting plan before getting the courts involved.

“The first thing that courts will encourage, that the bill encourages, is parents to come to a shared parenting order where the parents work out what’s best for their work schedule, for their outside responsibilities,” John told the House Families & Aging Committee on Tuesday. “The courts are to presume that that is sufficient.”

Creech said the bill would help children keep relationships with their parents, and work toward what he says a majority of Ohioans want, accountability in the courts system.

“Ohioans don’t trust the courts, and it’s our duty in the legislature to keep the courts accountable,” Creech said.

Creech told the committee that HB 14 was similar to House Bill 508 in the 134th General Assembly, which was introduced as a bipartisan bill with former Democratic state Rep. Thomas West.

That bill had similar language, aiming “to the greatest degree possible, that parents share equally in parenting time and rights and responsibilities of rearing their children after parents have legally, separated, divorced or dissolved or annulled their marriage or in situations where the mother is unmarried.”

Creech said in working through that bill, he received push-back, particularly from the Ohio State Bar Association, for trying to increase the standard of evidence to change the 50-50 custody from the lowest standard, a “preponderance of the evidence.”

Now that HB 14 has been introduced, the OSBA, along with the Ohio Judicial Conference and other organizations, say it still does not support the bill as it is currently written.

“We agree that the ideal situation is the involvement of both parents in the lives of their children,” Scott Lundregan, OSBA director of policy and legislative counsel, said in a statement to the OCJ. “However, HB 14 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 of the interests of their parents.”

Lundregan said equal parenting “may sound good on a bumper sticker,” but the bill does not define what that means, and increased litigation could result from the bill due to the need to “rebut” 50-50 custody.

“That would be detrimental to the child and all involved,” according to Lundregan.

Another organization who is opposed to HB 14 just as they were the previous bill is the Ohio Domestic Violence Network. ODVN Executive Director Mary O’Doherty said the group organized opposition to HB 508 and arranged for a child psychologist to testify against it, and they plan to oppose this bill in similar ways.

O’Doherty called HB 14 “largely the same” as HB 508, and they are in the process of updating a flyer they sent to legislators with more than 90 “legal, child and family-focused organizations across Ohio” who don’t support the bill.

“Equal parenting presumption legislation takes necessary discretion away from courts and will result in outcomes that are harmful to children and survivors of domestic violence,” the flyer for HB 508 stated, citing the Ohio Judicial Conference.

ODVN spoke out against HB 508 as harmful for low-income domestic violence victims as well, because of the funds needed to fight against the equal parenting presumption.

“Litigation abuse is a common tactic used by abusers because it is one of the few remaining ways they can control their victims after the family separates,” the flyer stated.

When asked on Tuesday about the domestic violence aspect of custody battles, Creech said the bill seeks to keep “fit parents” raising their children, and to “penalize all Ohio families because there could be potential abuse” isn’t the answer.

“I hear everybody, when it comes to domestic violence and this, is ‘let’s just separate the families because this could happen,’” Creech said. “That’s what we’ve been doing for years and it doesn’t work.”

This story was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.

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