Good evening, my name is Ray Lautenschlager; I'm one of the co-founders of Ohio Family Rights and the national legislative director for the organization. Our other co-founder is Roz McAllister, her specialty and passion has always been working with parents who have children services issues, that is parents that have been accused of abusing or neglecting their children.
My primary function within the organization has been the writing of and the lobbying to change policies within the states in how we treat divorced and never married parents.
For years we have all been told that fathers do not want to be fathers parents to their children. That is a fallacy. The problem is not the fathers; the problem is very poor state policy and a very poorly worded shared parenting law. Our entire society pays the price for this problem. In doing my research, using only government provided statistics and reports; I have tagged the cost of bad policy and law at $10 billion per year in the state of Ohio. I am not the only one that has studied the costs of this problem; the Heritage Foundation placed the cost on this problem at $500 billion per year. My Ohio figure does not include what I estimate to be a loss by this state of $500 million in lost income tax revenue from individuals due to lost time from work.
There are other costs that are missed by many. The total cost of my divorce was less than $1100 as I negotiated the agreement. I have two local fathers, one in Avon Lake and another in Geauga County, which I have helped to get equal custody of their children. The father in Avon stated that he wanted equal custody from day one and in the end got that but at a cost of $250,000 in legal fees, the loss of a $500,000 home in foreclosure before he had his first hearing , and the bankruptcy of his $11 million business. The father in Geauga County had issues that went on in court over a period of 6 to 7 years with legal fees that totaled close to $500,000. He now has equal custody of his three children. Yet as I helped him to negotiate a settlement with his ex-wife, the attorneys that charged that money did their best to stop this agreement from going through. Don't think that these issues are not are limited to only the northeastern Ohio area. I have a father in Cincinnati that I helped that spent nothing more than the cost of gas and printing, while his now ex-wife spent over $35,000. That father now has full custody because his ex-wife has been deemed mentally incompetent. These costly fights because of bad law and policy are costing families their children's college education.
Failed policy is bankrupting this nation.
Looking at statistics that will explain the depth of the problem as it affects every day society.
· Daughters of single parents without a Father involved are 53% more likely to marry as teenagers, 711% more likely to have children as teenagers, 164% more likely to have a pre-marital birth and 92% more likely to get divorced themselves.
· Adolescent girls raised in a 2 parent home with involved Fathers are significantly less likely to be sexually active than girls raised without involved Fathers.
· Custodial mothers who receive a support award: 79.6%
· Custodial fathers who receive a support award: 29.9%
· Non-custodial mothers who totally default on support: 46.9%
· Non-custodial fathers who totally default on support: 26.9%
Child support is another subject as we have found that much of the problem is not with the parents but with a system that has some of the worst accounting practices I have ever seen. Money is not applied to parents’ accounts per the court orders, not paid to the parent that is supposed to receive that money or just disappears. County and State of Ohio Systems are supposed to be linked, yet show very different amounts in numerous counties across this state.
In reviewing US Census Bureau reports, they show that 85% of all custody orders go in favor of the mother. Ohio during the last guidelines review process made the claim that 70% of all orders in Ohio went in favor of the mother. While I will trust the Census Bureau statistics, I am questioning that claim in report from the state. If an imbalance such as this fell in hiring practices or any other area of law there would be outrage, yet this is too often ignored.
Ohio uses what it says is the best interest of the child standard in determining custody between parents. Yet Ohio law contains no definition of what is the best interest of the child. It is un-definable legal term. In reading case law as I do, what I feel is the best definition came from a 1979 US Supreme Court decision, Parham vs. Commissioners. In that decision the US Supreme Court stated that there is a natural presumption that fit parents will always act in the best interests of the child.
I've asked attorneys and judges to legally define best interest of the child and they will continually point to the factors for determining custody. That is not a definition of best interest of the child; in fact the statistics clearly show that the best interest of the child standard has failed our children and society.
If we are to correct what is proven to be one of the largest failed social experiments, we must completely rethink how we legally address determinations of custody. As a work on writing these legislative proposals for the various states across this country, I change two things.
The first of those changes is a baseline for all custody determinations. That baseline is that all custody determinations shall be equal between the two parents unless there is proven unfitness on the part of one of those parents.
The second of the changes comes in the legal standard of review that judges use in making those determinations. At present the courts use the preponderance standard which basically comes down to who can tell the best story. I change that standard to clear and convincing evidence which is the civil equivalent of what is used in all criminal trials, beyond a shadow of doubt. The choice to use that standard is well seated within US Supreme Court decisions. In Santkosky versus Kramer, the US Supreme Court recognized that the right to be a parent, a fundamental right, is so important that to terminate any parental rights only the clear and convincing evidentiary standard is acceptable. The current use of the preponderance standard in Ohio falls far short of that legal standard. The limitation of time with the child is the removal or limitation of a parental right.
The true goal is to put the control of the family back in the hands of the family. I cannot walk into your house and tell you how to run your family because I do not understand nor can you walk into mine. Which you even consider it appropriate to walk into a neighbor's home that you do not know and to help them how they are going to raise their children? I don't believe you would.
The American Bar Association recently released the results of a survey that they conducted of judges in family law. The results of that survey showed that the judges of this nation are still stuck in the mindset of the Tender Years doctrine. That doctrine is one which began in the early 1900s and was based on the thoughts that only a mother could raise a child. As we moved in family law to what was supposed to be a more equitable pattern of decisions in the late 1970s the tender years was supposed to disappear. Again the statistics on custody determinations and now the survey results show that the Tender Years doctrine is alive and well.
Society has grown and changed. Many of those changes have come as a result of economic changes as we moved from less than 15% of households with working mothers in the 60s to what is now 65% of households with working mothers. The number of households with two working parents has changed as has the roles that a father and a mother take in the raising of their children. Speaking from experience I can honestly say that my role was far different than the role that my father took. One of the standard quips that my father used to throw at me as a teenager was that at some point I would make someone a good wife. He made that quip based on many of the skills that I was taught by some very strong women in my life, my grandmother, his mother and my great aunt. Both of them taught me skills such as cooking and sewing that I still use to this day. Skills that serve me well as a married parent and as a single parent.
I am now approaching my 15th year of working on this issue in the state of Ohio alone and the 14th anniversary of when I first testified before a House Committee on this issue. I have been able to bring a rather unique perspective to this because I was one of the lucky ones; I had equal custody of my son when I divorced in 1995. Unlike many other parents that have said that they want to see this law changed I have stuck around despite the fact that my son is now 24 years old. I don't keep working for myself; I keep working on this issue for him. I keep working so that when the time comes that he marries and has children, and God forbid that the day comes that he and his wife decide to end their marriage, that he stands on an equal basis as an equal parent for his children and my grandchildren. I will keep up my efforts until every state in this nation changes their laws and policies so that we can correct the problems that they have caused every citizen nationwide. No parent should ever walk into court expecting results that should equal a parking ticket to turn into what now is a death sentence. Any time anyone walks in the court they should know or at least have a very good idea of what the pending outcome will be. No father, no mother, in this or any other state, who has never been deemed to be under fit should ever be placed in the position that current policy and law does. That position being that a third party who knows nothing of them, of their children, of their personal beliefs or their religious beliefs, should ever be told by anyone that they can only see their child on every other weekend simply because they chose to dissolve a personal relationship.
Legislation to correct this last appeared in the Ohio General Assembly 3 1/2 years ago. It will be back at the beginning of the year as I have received a verbal commitment to address this issue with the legislature again. Ohio will not be the only state addressing this, Nebraska has already received a commitment of introduction for next year on a bill that I wrote for them as has Arizona. Currently I am working with no less than five other states to put together legislation to address this. As I speak to state legislators and discuss the costs that are borne by the taxpayers of the states on this issue they all agree that they expect to see similar savings as I have pointed out the state of Ohio in their states.
The majority of the courts in Ohio use the parenting time guidelines that were put forward by the Ohio Supreme Court. In these guidelines they set up a structure as to how much involvement the noncustodial parent should have in a child's life. These guidelines suggest that a noncustodial parent see there are newborn child a mere hours per week. Oh they increase the time as the child gets older but the true parent-child bond has already been broken. I have often asked a very simple question, if these parenting guidelines are so good how come they do not also apply to every married family in this state.
As Frederick Douglass stood for a quality between the races, the stance that Martin Luther King also held, I stand and will continue stand for equality in these determinations for every fit parent.
This simple question remains that no legislator has ever been able to explain to me, “Why do we remove fit parents from the lives of her children every day?”
Ohio Family Rights is a national free association of like minded people that work to comprehensively change the way that states and the courts view custody between divorced and never married people. We have dedicated ourselves to correcting what has long been a major problem of socially engineering fit parents from the lives of their child every day. This goal can only be accomplished by comprehensively correcting the flaws within the “Shared Parenting laws” that are currently in place so that all fit parents and their children can benefit from equal custody. Please join us in our efforts to protect the families of this nation and the future of our children.
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