October 8 this year marks not only my birthday but the 11th anniversary of the first time I testified before an Ohio House of Representatives committee on equal custody legislation. That bill, GA125th HB232 was the first real effort anywhere in the country that I can find, or anyone else, to change the shared parenting laws to true equal custody. That bill had some flaws and it had some outside interference and opposition from the judges. It may not have been perfect but it was a good start.
I remember that day because it was my 48th birthday. I'd spent considerable amount of time working on that bill from December the previous year through to its introduction close to Father's Day of that year. When I say that there was a lot of work went into the bill I can honestly say that there were probably close to 1000 e-mails as well as hundreds of hours in phone conversations between the small group that started working on the bill and with LSC at the Statehouse. There were others involved when it started but they disappeared after we had worked on it in the language was changed. I find it very disturbing that anyone that had put that many hours into an effort would choose to walk away when crunch time came but it happens.
With the day of testimony being my birthday I had to make a choice, do I testified or do I spend the day with my son as my agreement said that I was allowed to do simply because it was my birthday. I made choice and that was to celebrate my birthday with my son the evening before over pizza as he and I worked on his testimony for submission to the committee. I knew that other birthdays would come and go for me as they would for him but the chance to do what I would be doing that day was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a stand for every parent, my son and every other child's future.
The drive to Columbus with friends was filled with its usual lightweight humor and good conversation, not necessarily on the task at hand but conversation that is normal for everyone. When we arrived at Columbus testimony had already begun in the hearing room that we were in was packed. There were a lot of familiar and unfamiliar faces in the room that day which was whispering back and forth on points made by others in their testimony.
As others testified, including going domestic relations judge, it became obvious that there were some statements made about the bill by opponents that needed to be refuted if we had any chance of this bill passing out of committee. As a couple of us huddled to quickly discuss what we needed to do about the opponents statements questions were raised about who would stand up to shoot down the opposition. With everyone already locked into what they intended to say someone was going to have to make a change on the fly and walk away from their intended testimony to clear up the issues. Now after you've spent hour upon hour working on your own personal testimony, even rehearsed it in front of the mirror or family friends, it is not easy to switch gears and go in another direction. I was well prepared to testify on what I had prepared but these "problems" had to be handled on the spot. I huddled with Don Hubin, another PACE director, talking about the issues that had been raised and what we needed to do to quell those concerns. Don was unsure that I could handle the task at hand but we really had no choice but to let me take that giant step.
My time came and my personal testimony went out the window as I stepped to the podium to speak. The first issue that I addressed was that of the judges and their claims of lack of discretion. I told little story about discretion in what power the judges really had.
“The discretion of the a judge in the family court is so broad that if they write an order stating that you must have your child play in the middle of the freeway during rush hour, you are stuck with that.” That this statement was made as the judge that it testified against the bill sat less than 5 feet away . It's a bit odd to watch a grown man slink in his chair trying to hide as very truthful words come out.
I addressed the issues of the domestic violence people and their opposition is best could be done by explaining that we were touching the domestic violence laws at all. The years word somewhat the issues that I had to address that day on the fly but I did my job as best I could.
As I got ready to close my testimony I did something that I don't think anybody expected me to do, I read my son’s testimony.
My name is ***************** (While my son supports these efforts, I have kept him isolated from the parental rights movement) I am a child that has experienced equal parenting first hand for the past 8 ½ years. I would have been here in person except I had to be in school.
As I closed out his words, not mine, I could see numbers of the committee wiping their eyes and heard quiet sobs from the room. His words had choked in my throat somewhat but I made it through them. I also knew that I had made an impact that day as had he with his words. I was no hero; I was just a dad doing what he was supposed to do.
That day is in the past now and I can only really look forward to the next opportunity to testify and that day will come very soon. There are always moments in a person's life that they can look back on that will forever be etched in their personal history and that hopefully become a stepping stone to greater things. For me, I hope that day 14 years ago and that moment in time was that point.
The coming year is going to be a very busy one as legislation I've written will be introduced in multiple states including Ohio. This has never been an easy journey as there have always been some that want to stick their foot out and trip you along the way and some of those that are doing that now are ones that were working with us in the past. Friendships come and friendships go but the need to do what is best for society as a whole overcomes those losses and strengthens the gains.
So as I celebrate my birthday this year I want you to join me, not necessarily in person but by doing something that will help everyone. What I want you to do is help us by making a donation large or small to cover the costs that are coming in this coming year. This effort will not come cheaply, but I have a solid group that includes some very experienced lobbyists that will be working with us. Our costs are going to come in printing the various reports and in the travel expenses in coming from the four corners of Ohio in Columbus to meet with legislators and push this effort fully. We can't do it alone we have to have the help.
So what I want you to do on this day issues the donations but and donate the cost of the beer, a coffee or a card that you would buy this old man to celebrate having circled the sun one more time. Instead of leaving me with a hangover the next day that donation will do will allow myself and those that are working with me to go full tilt after getting our next equal custody bill passed. I have no intention of waiting another 11 years to testify or stopping until this mission is completed because there is far too much at stake in the lives of our children and the future of society.
Ray R. Lautenschlager
Ohio Family Rights
National Legislative Director
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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