Family Court Study Reveals Severe Inequity in Parenting Plans
A recent National Parents Organization (NPO) study revealed a severe inequity in how Ohio family courts determine their respective default parenting schedules in instances of divorce, creating an imbalance in how children are treated based on simple geography.

As reported in National Parents Organization’s “Ohio Parenting Time Report,” researchers found that the default parenting plans vary widely by county-by-county, awarding children in many counties as little as four days a month with a parent while providing children in other communities as much as equal time with both parents in instances of divorce or separation.

In total, the report found that 64 of 88 Ohio counties have a default parenting arrangement that allows the nonresidential parent less than 20 percent of regular time in instances of divorce or separation, despite an overwhelming amount of research that shows equal time with both parents is best for a child’s health and wellbeing. In the worst of cases, certain counties have default plans that only allow children to see one of their parents four days per month.

“We were pleased to see that three counties in Ohio provide default schedules that protect a child’s interest in having equal time with both parents in instances of divorce or separation — that said, sadly, many Ohio counties deprive children of this access,” said Don Hubin, Ph.D., one of the authors of this study and director of the Center for Ethics and Human Values at The Ohio State University. “Among the many reasons this is concerning is the fact that our state is treating its children so dramatically differently depending on where they live. Ohio should be treating children equally and providing them what they most want and need in instances of divorce, which research tells us time and again is as much time as possible with both of their parents.”

The Ohio Revised Code requires each Ohio Court of Common Pleas to adopt “standard parenting time guidelines” for dividing children’s time between parents when the parents live apart. Unfortunately, this has allowed counties to apply and enforce differing guidelines. These guidelines used across the state have generally been in place for decades and have clearly become unaligned with what current studies show is in the best interest of children.

The report, published as an interactive map highlighting different factors considered in the study, highlights these variances. The map, which can be found here, considers factors such as time and overnights the child spends with each parent, parental equality language, age sensitivity, transportation equality, guidance, and explicit gender bias to determine a grade for each county’s local parenting time rule.

“The most glaring takeaways from this report is that Ohio is simply not treating its children equally in instances of divorce or separation, and most Ohio children are being subjected to rules that are not in their best interest,” Hubin said. “How much time children are in the care of each of their parents shouldn’t depend on the child’s ZIP code. And the default parenting time schedules of each Ohio county should be grounded on the best scientific understanding of what sort of parenting schedules are in children’s best interest.”

“It is just not credible for our domestic relations courts to assert that, for children in Sandyville, Ohio (Tuscarawas County), it is presumptively in their best interest to be with her separated parents equal amounts of time but for children in Magnolia, Ohio (Carroll or Stark Counties) it is presumptively in their best interest to see her one of her parents only every 12 days, and then only for two days,” Hubin noted.

“A common argument against shared parenting suggests that a “cookie-cutter” approach to family court rulings doesn’t work,” Hubin continued. “However, Ohio courts are already using cookie cutters. And most of them are arbitrary and inconsistent cookie cutters that aren’t supported by research and are harmful to children. Ohio is not alone in this. These problems are echoed across the country, but Ohio counties show remarkable variation in how they treat the children of divorcing parents.”

The majority of these default schedules have a starting point with an overwhelming discrepancy in parenting time for one parent. With respect to ordinary parenting time (nonvacation, nonholiday time for parents living in what the court considers “close proximity”), NPO has determined that:

-64 of Ohio’s 88 counties have a parenting schedule that allows the children only two overnights and 60 hours or less with one of their parents in a two-week period. None of these schedules provide for the children to be with the nonresidential parent on a school night, an ill-suited arrangement for contemporary families based on the best scientific research available.
 -8 Ohio counties have parenting schedules that are slightly enhanced from the outdated model. These typically add one overnight with the nonresidential parent in a two-week period, while still allowing children less than 25 percent of ordinary parenting time with one of their parents.
-9 Ohio counties provide default schedules that allow the children 4 to 5 overnights with the nonresidential parent and substantially more time with the nonresidential parent, between 25 and 30 percent.

“It is certainly true that every family’s situation is different and divorcing parents should be encouraged to work out a schedule that will work for them based on the best research about child wellbeing. But Ohio courts have been using cookie cutters, in the form of local parenting time rules, for a long time and most counties are using particularly bad cookie cutters,” Hubin said. “If a default schedule is used, we should start with the presumption of equal parenting time. Divorce or separation is an adverse childhood experience, but if handled properly, we can minimize the negative effects on children and keep both parents fully involved in their lives whenever possible.”

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