One of the most important parts of a custody case are the initial and permanent allocations of custody and parenting time. On a temporary basis, due to existing Local Rules and standard parenting schedules, many times one parent is given the majority of parenting time while the other is relegated to an every-other-weekend schedule. This lopsided schedule persists until the court holds a hearing to modify the temporary order, or upon a final order being issued in the case.
In 2021, due in part to this inequity, a Bill was presented to the Ohio House that would create the rebuttable presumption of shared parenting and equal parenting time in custody cases from the initial temporary order. Not only would the Bill change the initial custody and parenting time allocation, but it would also create a rebuttable presumption of shared parenting and equal parenting time for the final order. This would differ from the existing analysis that the court is required to undergo to determine what is in the best interest of a child, prior to a final allocation of custody and parenting time. Under the proposed Bill, the presumption of shared parenting may only be refuted under the following circumstances:
- The demonstrated ability of each parent to cooperate with the other parent and to encourage the sharing of love, affection and contact between the child and the other parent.
- Any history of child abuse or neglect, spousal abuse, other domestic violence, or parental kidnapping by either parent.
- The mental health of all persons involved in the situation.
- The recommendation of a Guardian ad Litem, to the extent one is involved in the lawsuit.
The proposed Bill also restructures the factors considered in the allocation of parenting time, while it still includes same factors required for consideration under R.C. 3109.04, thereby shifting the court’s focus from what is in the best interest of the child to whether a particular factor may make equal time detrimental to the child’s best interest.
There are proponents on either side of the Bill. It is notable that a significant number of domestic violence crisis centers and victims’ advocate groups, throughout the state, including Women Helping Women, in Hamilton County, and the Ohio Domestic Violence Network (“ODVN”), have been vocal in their opposition to the proposed Bill. ODVN noted, in their opposition statement, that the Bill would result in increased litigation for domestic violence victims who would be forced to challenge the equal parenting time presumption.
The Bill is currently under review by the Civil Justice Committee, where it has been under review since February 2022. Upon introduction to the House, the Bill’s primary sponsors were Representatives Thomas West and Rodney Creech. Rep. West lost his reelection in November. It is unclear whether the Bill will move forward in the House as we await the Committee report. Rep. Creech was contacted but has not provided an update on the status of the Bill and when a report may be presented to the House.
As a family law litigator, I will continue to monitor the evolution of this Bill and the literature provided on both sides. If passed, the changes will have a significant impact on how custody cases are litigated.