We Can Make a Difference!
by Donald C. Hubin, Ph.D.
It’s easy to get discouraged. Anyone who’s been working to improve the lives of our children by promoting shared physical custody of children, as I have for the last 25 years, has felt frustration at the slow pace of progress. But we are making progress. We are making a difference.
There are, of course, recent NPO successes in a number of states, including the stunning victory in Kentucky. But in far too many states, including my home state of Ohio, legislative progress has been frustratingly slow.
But there are, as they say, many ways to skin a cat. And in Ohio, we decided to pursue non-legislative reforms, as well as legislative reforms, to promote shared parenting. And our efforts are beginning to bear fruit.
Through the first half of this year, my colleagues Frank Glandorf and Julie Carpenter-Hubin and I have undertaken a thorough review of the parenting time rules that each of Ohio’s 88 counties rely on to set post-divorce parenting schedules when parents cannot agree to a different schedule. This resulted in the NPO Ohio Parenting Time Report and the interactive, Internet map displaying the NPO grades for each county and the data on which the grades are based.
Not surprisingly, the vast majority of Ohio counties have a very outdated and harmful “every other weekend and one evening a week” parenting schedule for the non-residential parent. Only three counties’ parenting time rules allow the children equal, or nearly equal, time with each of their parents.
We began this project with the hope that our report would motivate Ohio county domestic relations courts to review and revise their rules. It was hope; not a certainty. We weren’t sure what response to expect.
Even as we prepared the report, we saw some small but welcome effects. In reviewing our data, one county protested that we had falsely alleged that it used ‘visitation’ language to refer to time the children spend with their non-residential parent. We pointed out to them 13 times in their rule when they referred to this time as ‘visitation’. They responded by revising their rule to remove this inaccurate and offensive way of talking.
That’s language; it’s important, but it’s not time with the children. But our report has produced more tangible results, too.
One Ohio county, Van Wert, received an ‘F’ in our study. Not only did it have a very bad parenting schedule, it was the only county to use explicitly gendered language in its rule, saying that “Father shall have visitation …”
While one might expect those in the Van Wert court to be defensive or dismissive of our report, this wasn’t the case. Instead, the Van Wert Magistrate Joseph Quatam was grateful for the report and announced plans to re-write their rules.
Two other Ohio county courts have contacted me directly indicating their intention to review and update their rules in response to the NPO report. One specifically asked for NPO to review their proposed new rule when it is drafted and provide them with feedback.
This is a gratifying response. We hope that many more Ohio courts will use the NPO report as an opportunity to change their parenting time rules in ways that benefit children. And there is reason to be hopeful. The Ohio Supreme Court has contacted me asking to discuss these matters with NPO more fully.
But it’s important to remember that even if this report were to prompt change in only one county in Ohio, that would benefit hundreds of families. Children in those families would not be subject, by default, to a parentectomy—the removal of one parent from a full parental role.
Don Hubin is the Director for the Center for Ethics and Human Values at the Ohio State University. He is a Member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors at National Parents Organization and the Chair of the Ohio Affiliate.