The bill would change state law to automatically allow joint custody to either parent in a custody dispute.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A bill that would automatically give parents 50-50 custody of children has been reintroduced in the Ohio House of Representatives and is already drawing the same opposition as a similar proposal introduced during the last general assembly.

The bill would change state law to automatically allow joint custody to either parent in a custody dispute. In that case, custody disputes must be proven by “clear and convincing” evidence, a higher legal standard than currently used in custody cases.

The bill’s authors, state Reps. Rodney Creech, R-Alexandria NW, and Marilyn John, D-Richland R-D, say the presumptive equal custody would encourage parents to work together before protracted court battles and encourage parents to create a joint parenting plan before involving the courts.

“The first thing the courts encourage, what the bill encourages, is to come to a shared parenting arrangement where the parents decide what’s best for their work schedules, for their outside responsibilities,” John told the House Committee on Families and Aging. Tuesday. “Courts have to assume that’s enough.”

Creech said the bill would help children maintain relationships with their parents and work toward what he said most Ohioans want — accountability in the court system.

“Ohioans don’t trust the courts, and it’s our duty in the Legislature to hold the courts accountable,” Creech said.

Creech told the committee that HB 14 was similar to House Bill 508 of the 134th General Assembly, which was introduced as a bipartisan bill with former Democratic Rep. Thomas West.

That bill had similar wording aimed “to the maximum extent possible to ensure that parents share parenting time, rights, and responsibilities equally after parents are legally separated, divorced, annulled, or dissolved, or in situations where if the mother is unmarried.”

Creech said he faced pushback while working on the bill, particularly from the Ohio State Bar Association, for trying to raise the standard of proof to change 50-50 custody from the lowest standard, “preponderance of the evidence.”

Now that HB 14 has been introduced, the OSBA, along with the Ohio Judicial Conference and other organizations, say they still do not support the bill as it is currently written.

“We agree that the ideal situation is for both parents to be involved in their children’s lives,” Scott Lundregan, OSBA’s director of policy and legislation, said in a statement to OCJ. “However, HB 14 would do more harm than good by shifting the long-standing ‘best interests of the child’ standard now used in child custody disputes instead of focusing on the best interests of their parents.”

Lundregan said equal parenting “might sound good on a bumper sticker,” but the bill doesn’t define what that means, and the need to “debunk” 50-50 custody could lead to more litigation.

“It would be harmful to the child and everyone involved,” Lundregan believes.

Another organization that opposes HB 14 just as they were against the previous bill is the Ohio Domestic Violence Network. ODVN Executive Director Mary O’Doherty said the group organized opposition to HB 508 and arranged for a child psychologist to testify against it, and they plan to oppose the bill in a similar fashion.

O’Doherty called HB 14 “basically the same” as HB 508, and they are in the process of updating a flyer they sent to lawmakers with more than 90 “legal, child and family organizations in Ohio” that do not support the bill.

“Legal presumption of equal parentage deprives courts of necessary discretion and will result in results harmful to children and survivors of domestic violence,” reads a flyer for HB 508, citing the Ohio Judicial Conference.

ODVN opposed HB 508 as harmful to low-income victims of domestic violence also because of the funds needed to combat the presumption of equal parentage.

“Litigation abuse is a common tactic used by abusers because it is one of the few ways they have left to control their victims after family separation,” the leaflet said.

Asked Tuesday about the domestic violence aspect of custody battles, Creech said the bill aims to make sure “parents in good shape” raise their children and that “punishing all Ohio families because they can be potential abuse” is not the answer.

“I hear everybody, when it comes to domestic violence and this, say, ‘Let’s just separate families because this can happen,'” Creech said. “That’s what we’ve been doing for years, and it’s not working.”

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