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Divorced parents advocate for “equal time” laws

Ohio follows other states in voting on default custody arrangements

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Divorced parents advocate for “equal time” laws

When Rodney Creech and his wife divorced, he spent around $90,000 and six years in court to get joint custody of his children. Fourteen years later, he is an Ohio state representative trying to change the law to make equal custody the default arrangement for separated parents in the state.

“I’m very fortunate that I had the means to fight for my family. Most families in Ohio do not,” Creech said. “You should not have to pay to get your own children.”

Ohio legislators are debating House Bill 14, which Creech sponsors with fellow Republican Rep. Marilyn S. Johnson. The bill seeks to give equal parenting time and responsibilities to parents who settle child custody cases in court. Other states such as Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, and West Virginia have all passed shared custody laws like the one proposed in Ohio. But victim advocacy groups believe such laws do not consider children’s needs and could put some children in danger.

Currently, individual county courts in Ohio have different ways of deciding how to divide child custody. Most courts decide on a primary custodial parent, while a few counties default to equal parenting.

In equal parenting, children spend an equal number of days at each parent’s house. Often, but not always, children go back and forth between houses during the week.

Ohio juvenile courts handled over 28,000 child custody or visitation cases in 2023.

Nationwide, fathers get less custody time than mothers. Custody X Change, a service that facilitates communication between separated parents, reported in 2018 that in Ohio, fathers get an average of about 24 percent of custody time—10 percent less than the national average. The numbers represent child custody cases in which both parents wanted custody and had no criminal record.

Proponents of the bill say that not having a default child custody arrangement wastes time and money in court. They also say it is in the best interest of children to have relationships with both parents.

National Parents Organization is an advocacy group for shared parenting and a proponent of the bill. The group cites research showing that children with only one parent actively involved in their lives are twice as likely to drop out of high school and three times as likely to carry guns and deal drugs.

Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, professor of psychology at Ohio State University, has studied father-child relationships for nearly 30 years and supports the bill. “Children do benefit from positive and continuous relationships with their fathers, as well as their mothers,” she said.

Opponents of the bill worry it takes a one-size-fits-all approach that could put children back in the care of abusive parents.

Journey Center for Safety and Healing, a domestic violence victim advocacy group in Ohio, opposes the bill.

“Advocates have witnessed parents who have used their shared parenting time to neglect their children to further harm their victim through medical, emotional, and physical abuse,” Megan Gergen, a spokeswoman for the organization, said in testimony before an Ohio House committee.

Lisa DeGeeter is the director of systems advocacy and policy counsel at Ohio Domestic Violence Network. She said out of the nearly 10 percent of child custody cases settled in court nationally, abuse has already occurred in 60 to 75 percent of the cases.

But DeGeeter agrees it is best for children to have relationships with both parents—when they are fit parents.

“The proponents of the bill are not wrong. They’ve identified a real problem,” she said. “But what they’re proposing as a solution would actually make things worse rather than better.”

Creech and other proponents of the bill say children are mistreated less in states with shared custody laws. A report by the National Parents Organization found reports of child maltreatment decreased by over 30 percent in Kentucky when the state adopted shared parenting laws.

Both Creech and DeGeeter say they are doubtful the bill will pass in Ohio. It faces strong opposition from legal experts, including those at the Ohio State Bar Association.

“We believe that judges should have the discretion to award parenting time based on what is best for the child and the individual circumstances of each case,” the bar association’s website said.

Creech got joint custody of his children, but his relationship with them suffered during the six years apart, he said. He wants to make sure this does not happen to other parents in Ohio.

“You’re innocent until proven guilty,” Creech said. “You can’t assume every parent’s an abuser. That’s not the way our system works.”

Elizabeth Moeller

Elizabeth Moeller is a breaking news intern for WORLD and a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.

Thank you for your careful research and interesting presentations. —Clarke

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