Recently, two National Parents Organization stalwarts, Don Hubin and Matt Hale, penned an op-ed on the need for family court reform and shared parenting in Ohio. Shortly after its publication, Judge John Quinn of Ohio’s Summit County weighed in with a remarkably ill-informed and misleading article opposing both. The following is Don Hubin’s rejoinder to Quinn’s piece. He links to both his and Hale’s original op-ed and Quinn’s response.
October 27, 2017 by Donald C. Hubin, Ph.D., Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization and Chair of the Ohio Chapter of NPO
How many married Ohio parents care for their children only each Wednesday from 5:30 to 8:00 pm and every other weekend? Not many! But many Ohio domestic relations judges seem to think that a parenting schedule like this does a fine job of continuing the parent child relationship when parents separate.
We at the National Parents Organization believe that outdated child custody laws like those in Ohio harm children and parents and that they encourage costly and needless litigation between fit and loving parents (https://www.ohio.com/akron/editorial/commentary/donald-c-hubin-and-matt-hale-how-ohio-makes-divorce-worse). Summit County domestic relations judge John Quinn, says they do not (https://www.ohio.com/akron/editorial/commentary/john-p-quinn-ohio-does-have-shared-parenting).
Judge Quinn takes issue with our claim that Ohio law “forces parents to fight tooth and nail to ‘win’ custody if they are to continue in their full parenting role.” He is certainly right that, almost always, those parents who agree to shared parenting at the outset needn’t fight “tooth and nail to ‘win’ custody. If, that is, the court agrees with them. For there is no provision in Ohio statutory law that grants a presumption that the court will order shared parenting even when both parents want that.
Of course, we never said that Ohio law “forces all parents to fight tooth and nail” to continue in a full parenting role. The parents we were talking about were the parents who do not initially agree to a parenting plan that provides for each parent to engage in a significant amount of “ordinary parenting time”—that is, weekdays and nights during the school year as well as weekends. In Ohio, those parents must fight to maintain their parenting role. In Kentucky, provided they are fit and loving parents, they don’t have to anymore.
Judge Quinn quotes from the Ohio Revised Code
“Whenever possible, the court shall require that a shared parenting plan approved under division (D)(1)(a)(i), (ii), or (iii) of this section ensure the opportunity for both parents to have frequent and continuing contact with the child, unless frequent and continuing contact with any parent would not be in the best interest of the child.”
That sounds nice, doesn’t it? It sounds as if Ohio is already protecting all fit and loving parents’ relationships with their children. Except for three important issues that Judge Quinn fails to mention. First, this provision applies only to those cases where shared parenting is awarded—not to all cases where parents divorce. Second, there is no presumption in favor of shared parenting. Courts are left to their own general predilections, often completely uninformed of the scientific research supporting shared parenting. These two points mean that, for far too many Ohio parents, the provision in Ohio law that Judge Quinn quotes is simply irrelevant.
But there is another very important issue that Judge Quinn neglects to note about this provision. Even when it applies, it creates only a presumption in favor of “frequent and continuing contact.” This is left undefined and for many decades, Ohio courts have routinely considered “every other weekend and one evening a week” to satisfy the requirement for “frequent and continuing contact.”
Apparently, Judge Quinn is among the Ohio judges who accept this. The “Standard Parenting Time Schedule” (http://www.drcourt.org/standardorder.PDF) that he applies to families coming before his court provides little or no ordinary parenting time for one parent. It provides “every other weekend and one evening a week” children from three years through 13 years old, less time for younger children and no specific amount of parenting time for children from 14 and older.
The scientific research strongly supports a presumption that shared parenting is usually in the best interest of children even when the parents don’t initially agree on shared parenting. Judge Quinn may well be unaware of this research. If so, he is not alone among his colleagues on the Ohio bench. Though we charge our domestic relations judges with deciding cases “in the child’s best interest,” we do not require that judges and magistrates learn anything at all about what science has taught us about the best interest of children. If Ohio judges and magistrates really care about promoting the best interest of children, they could begin their research with the work of Linda Nielsen (Wake Forest University). Dr. Nielsen has surveyed scores of the best and most recent research on separated parenting and presented the results in clear, easily-readable articles.
What decades of research has taught us is most certainly not that children benefit from a parenting schedule that is merely called “shared parenting” but in which the parents do not share substantially equally in the parenting responsibilities. What it has taught us is that children benefit from both parents being fully engaged in the
day-to-day child rearing activities. How many of Judge Quinn’s own cases that he calls “shared parenting” are shared parenting in name only—cases in which one parent is reduced to being a “every other weekend and one evening a week” parent?
Judge Quinn makes two points against a presumption of substantially equal shared parenting. Both miss their mark. First, he complains about the “one-size-fits-all” nature of a “mandate of a 50/50 split.” Second, he says that very few families have truly equal parenting before separation. But his own “Standard Parenting Time Schedule,” which is a default schedule for parents who cannot agree, is every bit as much of a “one-size-fits-all” approach as any equal parenting presumption that has been proposed or enacted in any state. And, of course, while it may be true that few intact families have a strict 50/50 split, even fewer have an arrangement where one parent cares for the children only from 5:30 to 8:00 pm each Wednesday and every other weekend.
If fit and loving separated/divorced parents can agree on another arrangement that works well for their situation, the courts should defer to them unless there is clear evidence that this would be harmful to the children. But now, well into the 21st century, it’s time to say that parents who cannot agree will be held equally responsible for the day-to-day care of the children.