Good afternoon ladies and gentleman, my name is Ray Lautenschlager; I am a single father, and a chapter director with Parent And Children for Equality in Akron. I
want to thank the committee for allowing me the opportunity to appear here today. Also would like to thank Representative Young and the other members of the House that have come forward in support of HB232.
I come here as a divorced father that does have equal parenting of his son. While this might seem at first that I have no reason to see Ohio law changed because I have what this bill would provide, instead I am an example of what is so very wrong with the current law, and why it must be changed to benefit the children and the parents of Ohio.
When I started the divorce process in December of 1994, I was faced with the dilemma that many parents in this state are faced with on a daily basis. The removal of my child, who I had cared for since birth on a full time basis, a child that I love so very much and that loves me. I was, am and will always be an active father and not one to shy away from my responsibilities in any manner. I changed more diapers and fixed more meals and spent more time with my son than his mother, in short I was his primary caregiver.
I was served with papers that his mother wanted full custody of the child but I knew that I had the right to be active in his life also and that the standard order of visitation which allowed for a courtesy every other weekend of time was not nearly enough to be the mentoring father that I always wanted to be to my son. He deserved more. Like his mother I also filed at that time for full custody, mostly to protect my rights as a parent. Although filed by my attorney with the courts, I was told flat out that full custody would never be awarded to me ‘because I was a male’. My only reply was to ask him what that had to do with anything, and was told ‘they do not award custody to fathers in this county.’
He did present the “new” idea of shared parenting to me. I was raised to be a fair person by my family and even though my feelings were hurt by the divorce, I did then and still believe that it is best for a child to have two active parents in their life. Only through negotiation was I able to achieve that I would share raising of my son because current law, while it does allow it, it does not guarantee that a parent will even have any thing close to a small share in raising their child. I truly believe that had this gone to court, I would have been forced to be nothing but a visitor to a child that I had built my life around.
My attorney and I were given the task of writing the ‘parenting plan’, a task that I did not take lightly because this was going to determine the future of my son. My attorney gave his best effort to write this but told me that it was so new he didn’t even know how to approach it. The task then became mine.
I took in to consideration all aspects of fairness to my son, his mother and myself. I considered the involvement of his grandparents and made sure that they were treated as fairly as they could be with this. All aspects had to be considered from time with each parent to time with grandparents should they want to take the child on a vacation. I had to consider where the child would go to school and who would pay for extra expenses should he decide to participate in an extra curricular activity. Add to this the fact that you now have to respect the child’s right to have toys, clothing and pets, and you can see that this, although agreed to, did take some serious thinking. In the end, I created what has been thought of by many as one of the fairest and most equal arrangements that could be devised. To describe it shortly, full legal and physical custody transfers between his mother and myself on a week to week basis.
All was done and agreed in writing and the divorce was finalized. In my mind I was a free person and able to move on with my life without further court involvement or interference from my ex. This is where I got a fast education into what is very wrong with Ohio law.
Ten days after my divorce was final, my ex-wife attempted to commit suicide. Being the concerned parent that I am for the safety of my child I talked to several attorneys to see if there was something that could be done to protect my son from what I saw as possible harm at this point and was told that I did not have a case and that it would be nothing but a waste of time and effort to file anything with the courts at this time. I listened because they knew the law better than me, in fact one gentleman actually handed me the Ohio Revised Code and told me to read it so that I could assure myself that he was right when he said I didn’t have a case. I came to the same conclusion as he did, that there was not enough to make a case and to put it out of my mind and to forget it ever happened. I thanked him and went on with life.
Sorry to say that my ex-wife did not receive the same good advise that I did. Two weeks later I was served with papers stating that she had filed for sole custody of my son.
The following year brought an element of conflict that previously did not exist to the lives of my family, my son and me even though the issues of our divorce had settled and all issues had been resolved. I was probed by psychologists that looked at me as though I was nuts for not immediately getting into a new relationship, frankly I felt that I needed to clear my head after failing in the last. I was physically assaulted in front of my son by his grandfather because I stood up for my right to parent and raise my son. I was investigated by court personnel as to my abilities to parent, something that had never been questioned before. A Guardian Ad Litem was appointed for my son that did nothing but collect a check while failing to do any investigation other than coming to my house to see if my son had a bed.
In the end, it was my ex that failed to pass the tests and she withdrew her complaint while gaining nothing for her efforts but the feeding of a bunch of piranha that encourage continuing conflicts that had been previously resolved for the sole purpose of lining their pockets. Thousands of dollars wasted and a stress that need not happen had an attorney chosen to give her the same advise that I had received that there was no use filing because there was no legal basis for changing this agreement yet he chose to line his pockets and the others pockets of others with money that would have been better spent to raise a my child.
The next six years went by without incident, I had become involved with a wonderful divorced mother that I had known since junior high school and it looked as though we were ready to move ahead with our life together until again my ex decides that she wants to gain control over my life and the life of the child because he is attending a school that she does not like because, as she put it “there are bad people there”. These bad people are nothing more than people of color. This is hardly the change of circumstance that is required by current law for the change of custody just needless conflict simply to feed the pockets of those that have chosen to line their pockets under the current law.
Even though she was told flat out that the courts would not make a determination of custody based on the quality of a child’s school, she proceeded with the encouragement of her attorney and her family which sought nothing but to disrupt that close bonding that my son and I enjoyed or possibly because I was now happy in my personal life without her. In other words, I had become a threat to her in her mind because I was too good of a parent by staying actively involved in my child’s life especially with his schooling by acting as a ‘room mother’ and actively pushing him to achieve more as a student. May be it was my relationship that may have been a threat to her as my son enjoys my companion’s company and that of her son. These are something that I felt I should be rewarded for not punished after all she had remarried by now.
In the ensuing next months I was again probed by court personnel and psychologists. I, at one point, had a court officer try to settle this matter prior to any further court proceedings. This person asked her to make me an offer to settle this dispute without taking the matter to trial. Her offer was one of standard visitation for me to which I promptly replied that “there was not a snowball’s chance in you know where of that ever happening.” When asked to then make an offer of my own; I offered back the same thing as was offered to me. Before my ex could ever reply, the court official replied, ”that is less than she has now, how can you make such an offer?” Strange as there was no comment when I was offered less but when mommy is, it is wrong. I am sure that this was also the basis for the same person going on the record with the courts and stating that “they did not like me because my personality was too strong.” Yet I wonder how many others this happens to daily merely because they chose to be a parent to their child and an example that personal bias does exist and influence court decisions.
Yet the net gain for her in this second attempt was again nothing as she again withdrew her complaint when she saw she would not get the full custody and control that she wanted or was told she would get by her council.
Then having failed to change custody twice she tried a different tactic and filed ex parte for a restraining order claiming in her affidavit that I was a flight risk. In her mind I was a flight risk because I wanted to take my son for what amounted to a 49 hour vacation so that he could attend a family picnic with my girlfriend and myself at Wing Foot Lake. This resulted in another trip to court and again her complaint was thrown out after I showed how she had lied to obtain it and then lied in court to again support her claims. Hard to substantiate a claim that you don’t know someone’s phone number when you have used it two days previously to talk to the child and had also hard to back a claim that you do not know someone’s address when you have dropped a child off at that address the night before at 8:00 PM. When pressed by the court she admitted that all I said was true yet the court failed to find her guilty of perjury, even with her own admission. More money wasted and conflict and disruption that need not happen but did because again she was encouraged by family and attorney that feed off the conflict they can create.
Throughout this the losses to me have increased with each of her attempts as the dirty tricks have grown with each of these personal attacks on me. She has now enlisted my mother and family to support her in her efforts. This lead to the disowning of me by my family and the loss of my home, which was in my mother’s name, even though I paid all the bills for it and did all the repairs, as my own mother sold it out from under me to try to discredit me. Add continued legal bills and further feedings to the machine that surrounds and feeds off this encouraged conflict. In short, making the choice to be a good father to my son has cost me nearly $250,000.00 that could have and should have been spent to raise my son and continue with a free and unencumbered life that my divorce granted.
Mine is but one of the stories I could relate to this committee because as a chapter director with PACE, I have heard similar stories too many times. So many that I am seldom surprised at what people tell me.
How would this new bill have benefited me if it were present in Ohio law? It would have sent a clear message to the courts that it is in the best interest of a child that both of his parents are equals and that it is in his best interest that we both are responsible for raising him equally. This is something that does not exist under Ohio’s current law as there is no legal definition of what is the best interest of a child; it is totally up to the discretion of the court. Could any of you tell me honestly that with nothing but a short interview, no legal definition and affidavits that you could determine what is best for the child of a total stranger as the courts must do everyday? Could you make a judgment to a person’s ability to parent based solely on the here-say evidence of an affidavit and then determine which parent or the other becomes nothing more than a visitor to them without a clear definition of something as important as best interests of the child? Courts are doing it everyday now.
This bill will send a clear message that the present system of using affidavits will no longer be solely sufficient to determine the custody of a child from the start of a divorce. The temporary order sets the precedence for the court to later make their final determination. The courts will have to consider clear and convincing evidence as to why a parent should take a less than equal role in the raising of that child by journalizing these findings and then setting up a plan so that the parent that is not equal can make the changes to become equal again. While this is done by the juvenile courts if a parent is found unfit, in the domestic relations court at present it does not happen. When you are relegated to being a less than equal parent, short of expensive litigation, you will never become an equal participant in your child’s life.
Can any of you honestly say that spending every other weekend you’re your own child is and would be sufficient for you to mentor and raise your child to be a valuable member of society? As standard orders go now, most non-custodial parents are allowed to spend a mere 15% or less of time with their child. This bill would make that time approximately 50% unless there is sufficient clear evidence that doing such would be harmful to the child and would divide the responsibilities for the raising of the child in a like manner. Had the child’s parents stayed together this would have taken place naturally. A divorce is between adults not a parent and their child.
Another thing that this bill provides is a method for parents to resolve conflicts without expensive litigation. More often than not, the expense of resolving conflicts such as denial of visitation prohibit the aggrieved parent from seeking a resolution thus sending no clear message that the denial of time and the right to parent shall not be tolerated by the courts. The addition of language modeled after Missouri’s Family Access Law will do this. I know that in my own case, I could have filed no less than 25 separate contempt charges for violations of denial and failures to abide by the orders of the court. The mere expense of hiring an attorney and filing each of these contempt charges of clear violation was a prohibitive and needless expense and would have served no purpose other than lining the pockets of attorneys and clogging the court’s docket. Yet because of this my ex feels that it is alright to do as she pleases because she knows she will not be punished.
This bill will send a very clear message to parents that using the system and children as a tool of vindictiveness and continuing to use the courts in a vindictive manner as they have been allowed to do for so long will serve no purpose. There will be nothing to gain.
This will serve to send a message to the attorneys, social service professionals, mediators and psychologists that have fed off and encouraged this current system of conflict even when conflict or basis in law does not exist that the feed troughs are now closed unless they want to help instead of hurt the children of our current and future generations.
As I appear here on my 48th birthday, a person that has been stripped of nearly all of my money and most of what I have worked hard for, by a system that feeds on encouraging the unnecessary continuation of conflict, I urge you to pass this bill through this committee and move it quickly to becoming law before another child is harmed by not having two fit parents in their life and allow us to be parents to our children without fear of the next knock at the door.
Ray R. Lautenschlager
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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