February 16, 2018 by Don Hubin, PhD, Chair, Executive Committee, National Parents Organization of Ohio
How many times have we heard this in response to our efforts to establish a presumption of equal parenting when parents separate as misguided: “Every case is different; you can’t use a cookie-cutter approach”?
In my more than 25 years of working to promote shared parenting, I’ve heard judges, attorneys, and legislators say this more times than I can remember. Most recently, in two settings. When I presented National Parents Organization’s proposed legislation for a presumption of equal parenting during temporary orders, representatives from the Ohio Bar Association challenged the proposal because … “every case is different” and “you can’t use a cookie-cutter approach.” A couple of weeks later, when I met with two leaders of the Ohio Domestic Relations Judges Association to discuss this proposed legislation, I was told, again … “every case is different” and “you can’t use a cookie-cutter approach.”
It sounds reasonable, of course. Every case is different. But it’s a hollow argument.
Courts already use a cookie cutter—an incredibly detailed cookie cutter. These cookie cutters typically specify not only the amount of time that the children will spend with each parent, but the exact days and the times of the exchanges: Wednesdays from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm and every other weekend from 6:00 pm on Friday until 6:00 pm on Sunday, for example.
And this highly specific schedule is used as a default, for “when parents can’t agree otherwise.”
Knowing this, and pointing it out, is one thing. Proving it based on careful research is quite another.
Ohio NPO is undertaking a review of the cookie cutters used by Ohio domestic relations courts to determine parenting time. In our state, each of the 88 counties set its own “standard parenting time rule” for separated and divorced parents. NPO member Frank Glandorf and I are reviewing every one of these schedules and evaluating them on the degree to which they promote children’s best interest by setting defaults that protect the child’s relationship with both parents.
The goal is to produce a report card for each county, similar to the 2014 NPO Grade Card Report that evaluated all 50 states’ custody laws. It’s a complex task because, as you might expect, there’s wide variation in the approaches used by Ohio courts. Some local rules are age specific, some are not; some have multiple schedules for children of the same age group; others do not; some have very complex schedules; others are very simple.
To make the task manageable, for this report, we’ll be focusing only on how the various courts address “normal time” with the children—time that doesn’t include holidays and summer vacations. And we’ll focus only on the rules concerning parents who live in reasonably close proximity.
Preliminary findings are not surprising. The vast majority of Ohio counties have parenting time rules of the every-other-weekend-and-one-evening-a-week variety, or less. And they explicitly say that this schedule applies when the parents can’t agree to anything else.
This is not news to anyone involved in the custody reform movement. But we’re working on developing the data to back up our claims that, not only do Ohio courts already use a cookie-cutter approach, but the cookie cutter they use is a terrible one—harmful to children and parents.
This will be a powerful tool to use with judges, attorneys, legislators, and the media. In addition to issuing a grade card report, we will be writing op-eds to be published in the local newspapers praising those courts that do it right and calling out those who are woefully behind the times.
National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization
National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved? Here’s how:
Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.
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