COLUMBUS, Ohio - A bipartisan effort is underway in the Ohio House to make sure moms and dads who split up can get equal time with their kids from the beginning.
Currently, the state forces family court judges to give sole or primary custody to one of the parents if they don't have an agreement already in place.â
"Imagine watching your kids grow up outside of your home," said Rep. Rodney Creech, R-West Alexandria.
Creech said he went through a custody battle for six years that cost him thousands of dollars, and more importantly, time with his children.
"To get my own children 50% of the time, which I was a good father, I was an elected official, local farmer, local business owner, and I always told people, if I can't get my children, who can?" Creech said.
What Creech went through is not only common but also unpopular according to the Ohio chapter of the National Parents Organization. NPO Ohio said 82% of Ohioans feel it is in the best interest of a child to have as much time as possible with two fit parents when they get divorced.
Otherwise, state co-chair Elizabeth McNeese said research shows the children suffer.
"They're more at risk for dropping out of school. They're more at risk for drugs, becoming teen parents. They're more likely to be incarcerated," said McNeese.
McNeese also dealt with her own custody situation. She said she decided from the beginning a 50/50 agreement with her ex-husband was best for her kids.
"My kids are shining examples. My oldest is now a junior in college. My middle is a senior in high school and then my youngest is in middle school and they're all doing phenomenally well,” she said. “And if you would have told me that when we separated, I would have been, I wouldn't have believed it because it was a very high conflict.”
As of now, Ohio's lone standard is what is in the best interest of a child and leaves it up to each county to decide. Creech and Rep. Thomas West, D-Canton, a social worker for 25 years and vice president of the Ohio Commission on Fatherhood, want to change that.
They have introduced a bill, House Bill 508, which would force family court judges to presume equal shared parenting is what is best for kids.
"When you have both parents that are going to be shared from the very beginning, equal time and equals place, and equal decision making, they're not going to be fighting over that kid,” said West. “They're both going to come to the table, hopefully a little bit more responsible and making decisions that is best for all parties.”
The Ohio Judicial Conference, which represents Ohio's judges, opposes the bill as does the Ohio Domestic Violence Network.
According to ODVN, "HB 508 prioritizes equal decision making and parenting time above all other considerations of a child's well-being, including exposure to domestic violence and child maltreatment."
NPO Ohio and the bill's sponsors strongly disagree.
"This bill is for good parents,” said Creech. “It's not for parents to have drug and alcohol addiction, abuse, neglect. This bill is for parents that want to raise their children together, but separately.”
Arkansas and Kentucky have passed similar laws, however, equal parenting bills failed to get through the Ohio Statehouse in 2011.â House Bill 508 has yet to be referred to a committee or receive a hearing.