October 4, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Ah, now we’re getting somewhere.

Back in August, NPO’s Don Hubin, with the assistance of two other researchers, issued NPO’s Ohio Parenting Time Report. The Report analyzed and compared the standard parenting time guidelines of each of Ohio’s 88 counties. Its stark findings include the fact that those guidelines are radically different from county to county. In one county, a child can rely on the guidelines to help him/her to maintain meaningful relationships with both parents, while a child in county four miles away is faced with a standard order for 4 – 5 days per month with one parent and the rest with the other.

The report rightly calls into question why children in adjoining counties should be treated so differently. It also points out that one county actually makes it explicit that the non-custodial parent is to be the father. Yes, it actually uses sexist language in that way.

Since its release, the Report has had some positive effects that Hubin has detailed in blog posts and in our newsletter. Put simply, it’s had a measurable and positive effect in a short period of time.

So now comes the pushback. We all knew there’d be pushback and I for one am thrilled that NPO has now scared the Ohio Association of Domestic Relations Judges out of the weeds. It comes in the form of what may be a letter, or perhaps a press release. Its author, the president of the OADRJ, Judge Paula Giulitto, doesn’t make it clear, but she titles the piece “OADRJ Response to NPO.” (As of this writing, it’s nowhere on the OADRJ website, but is written on OADRJ letterhead and signed by Giulitto.)

That’s why I say “we’re getting somewhere.” With the attention of that body, can real reform be far behind?

Until that day, I have one suggestion for the august members of the OADRJ – learn to read. Giulitto’s very first reference to the Report is unambiguously wrong.

The National Parents Organization (NPO) issued a report August 30, 2018, which purported to analyze and evaluate the parenting time ordered by Domestic Relations and Family Courts in Ohio.

No, actually we didn’t. Had Giulitto bothered to read the Report, she’d have found these words that were carefully included to make sure anyone reading the Report knew what it is and what it isn’t.

The Ohio Parenting Time Rule Project is not an evaluation of Ohio counties’ domestic relations courts’ actual patterns of awarding parenting time or the actual behavior of parents, which sometimes diverges from court orders. Courts do not compile records of the frequency with which any given parenting time schedule is ordered. Accordingly, NPO has no means of knowing how frequently courts in any county order a default (or any other) parenting time schedule.

Here’s what the Report is: an analysis and comparison of the standard parenting time guidelines of each county in Ohio.

Here’s what the Report is not: an analysis of actual court orders in parenting time cases.

Giulitto stumbles on:

The NPO report erroneously assumes that a Court automatically adopts its standard parenting time order in cases in which both parties participate in a hearing but no agreement is reached in lieu of issuing a customized order after a hearing occurs.

No, wrong again.

NPO believes that the county standard parenting time guidelines play a very significant role in determining the parenting practices of separated parents, perhaps especially when parents come to the court without legal representation.1 While parents can have reasonable confidence that courts will approve most schedules that are mutually agreed to by the parents, the default schedules influence parental choices; furthermore, parental agreements are “made in the shadow” of these default schedules. NPO was motivated to undertake this detailed study because Ohio’s counties’ standard parenting time rules strongly influence the actual schedules parents follow and those parenting arrangements are instrumental in determining the well-being of children of divorced and separated parents.

And here’s the citation referenced at the end of the first sentence above:

Research shows that default options significantly influence individuals’ choices. See, for example, Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, by Richard H. Thayler and Cass R. Sunstein, Penguin Books (2009)

So again, the Report makes clear that, based on cited research, parents’ choices are strongly influenced by the guidelines in place. But in no way does it “assume that a court automatically adopts its standard parenting time order…”

An intrinsic flaw in the NPO report is that there was no review of actual outcomes in any Domestic Relations or Family Court cases in Ohio. In addition, there was no understanding of the efforts within Courts to adopt or tailor an appropriate parenting time schedule for parents when they are unable to reach an agreement.

Wrong again. That would have been a flaw had it been the goal of the project to conduct a “review of actual outcomes,” but, as clearly stated, that’s not what the Report was about. It was about standard guidelines, not actual practices. It’s not “Moby Dick” either, and shouldn’t be criticized for it.

Having entirely misrepresented what the NPO Report is (and not linked to the report so readers can judge for themselves), Giulitto moves on to misrepresenting what NPO is.

The underlying goal of the NPO is for Courts to automatically issue an order for equal parenting time between parents upon the filing of a complaint.

That of course is utterly untrue as even a casual reading of anything that’s ever appeared on the NPO website would reveal. The idea that NPO does now or has ever argued for courts to automatically issue equal parenting time orders irrespective of everything can only be called an intentional misrepresentation.

As we so often see, opponents of shared parenting go to remarkable extremes to resist what’s been shown by the great weight of science on the issue to be in children’s best interests. This screed by Judge Giulitto is just another in a long line of the same. What’s always telling is that those opponents have to “make stuff up” in order to justify their opposition. Stated another way, if they had a meritorious argument to make against shared parenting or against our analysis of the Ohio guidelines or anything else, don’t you think they’d make it? Instead of making an argument on the merits, Giulitto frankly misrepresents NPO’s Report, what it is and what it explicitly isn’t.

But here’s an offer to the OADRJ: let’s fund a joint analysis of court orders in custody and parenting time cases in Ohio. We can hire a well-respected researcher, much as Nebraska did several years ago. Judge Giulitto waxes indignant that NPO should question Ohio’s judges in parenting time matters. So let’s learn what they actually do. Let’s set aside standard guidelines and get to the real thing. When that’s been done in other states, the results have been humiliating for the judiciary, but perhaps Ohio’s is better.

Whatever the results of such an analysis, the impact can only be good. If Ohio turns out to be like Nebraska and North Dakota, judges can then know that they need to do better at serving the best interests of kids. If it turns out that those judges order shared parenting at a sensible rate, then we’ll all toss our hats in the air and shout “Huzzah!” And I’ll be the one shouting the loudest.

But for now, let’s stop misrepresenting to the public a sensible and sound Report. If the members of the OADRJ issue parenting time orders that are as bad as their critique of NPO’s Report, they’ve got a lot of work to do and a lot of questions to answer.

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