A bill introduced in the Ohio House of Representatives earlier this year sounded like a common-sense change to the law for those sponsoring it and for many parents’ organizations. It sought to add a presumption in child custody cases that 50-50 shared custody is in a child’s best interests.
Some counties in the state already have that presumption. However, the state law presumes that it’s better for one parent to have primary custody when spouses or partners break up.
The original language in the bill stated that if parents couldn’t agree on a custody arrangement and the decision was left to a judge, a parent seeking something other than “equal decision-making rights and responsibility or equal parenting time” to “bear the burden of proof” of why it would be “detrimental to the children.”
Concerns about domestic abusers and more
Almost from the start, groups including legal coalitions and advocates for domestic violence victims argued that the change in presumption would require those with a violent or otherwise abusive co-parent to prove that abuse to prevent them from having shared custody of their child.
One former Ohio Supreme Court justice referred to the bill as “a hot mess.” A representative for the Ohio Bar Association said it “sounds well-intentioned but could have destructive consequences.” She said it would allow parents with drug abuse, mental health and other issues to care for children alone. Further, she argued, “It may force a victim of domestic violence to co-parent with their abuser.”
Changes presented last month
Lawmakers have listened to these dissenting voices and changed some of the language in the bill significantly last month. Among the changes is that the presumption of “equal parenting time and rights” has been amended to say “substantially equal in time and decision-making rights.” There are other changes to help protect both children and parents. The bill still has a long way to go before becoming law – if it does.
While it’s typically best if parents can agree to a shared parenting arrangement that works for their child and them, it’s crucial to know what the law says since that’s what a judge is tasked with following if they decide the arrangement. Further, it’s critical to make a strong case to the court if you believe what your co-parent wants isn’t best (or in fact could be harmful) for your child and you. Having experienced legal guidance throughout the process can help you protect your rights and do what’s best for your child.