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OPINION Best interests of child should rule in custody arrangements
Kathleen C. King
Published January 13, 2022
In a Jan. 9 op-ed, Teresa Harlow recently suggested that Ohio law encourages unfair custody arrangements because the starting place is not a 50-50 division between the parents ("Ohio law encourages lopsided, unfair custody arrangements"). The fairness, however, should belong primarily to the child.
Children remain in the formative years of development and did not decide to be born, belong to this family, or to get a divorce. Ohio law focuses on the best interests of the child. This is where the focus should be.
Both parents usually love their children equally, but parents may have different ways of showing that love. Some are better at earning money so that the child has the advantage of living well enough. Others are stronger with interacting more directly with the child.
I was a magistrate in Hamilton County Domestic Relations Court for nearly 29 years. The Ohio Judicial College and the Cincinnati Bar Association provided seminars involving the developmental stages of children and other visitation issues. Many years ago, the court formed a committee to develop a starting place for parenting time depending on the age of the child. The schedule was only a starting place because parents have different work schedules and capabilities, and all children are not the same.
Babies need a very definite primary caretaker. Shuffling them back and forth on an equal basis puts them at risk for separation anxiety and insecurities long into adulthood. Would a 50-50 parenting division work for a child who is disorganized and suffers from ADHD? My experience from the bench says "generally not."
Such children being transferred from one household to another often lose track of clothing, school work and extracurricular activities. A teacher might notice that the child has his homework completed every other week or that the child will wear the same clothing three days in a row every other week. If one of the parents works ungodly hours in order to provide food and shelter or material advantages, that hard-working individual may have to hand the child over to neighbors, babysitters, or grandparents until after the children are in bed. Sometimes they might leave the child unattended.
It is best if the parents can agree on a parenting schedule without court involvement. Conflict resolution specialists like Ms. Harlow can offer the community a tremendous service by helping parents figure out a reasonable parenting time schedule. They may agree that a shared parenting plan works. In the event the parents can't agree, it becomes the court's job to handle the situation.
The Ohio law appropriately requires that both parents be viewed equally before the court as it relates to parental rights and responsibilities. Neither gender is to have an advantage. Ohio statutes also rightly demands the court focus on the child's best interests.
In determining the best interests of the children, the court must consider all relevant factors, including, but not limited to:
I may quarrel with a few of the nuances in Ohio's statutes regarding custody. Basically, though, Ohio has it right. The best interests of the child should rule.
Kathleen C. King was a magistrate in Hamilton County Domestic Relations Court for approximately 29 years and is now of counsel with The Farrish Law Firm.