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Don Hubin: A tale of two children of divorce

Are Lawrence County parents less important to their children’s well-being than those in counties like Ashtabula, Carroll, Clermont, Holmes and Tuscarawas?

That seems to be the message Judge Andrew P. Ballard is sending to divorcing parents.

Imagine two children, Amy and Brittany. Both girls, and their families, live in Ohio: Amy in Ironton and Brittany in New Philadelphia. Unfortunately, both girls’ parents are divorcing. This will be a rough time for the girls, but, fortunately, all four of the parents are good, loving parents — divorcing each other, not their daughters — and each wants to remain fully engaged in their daughter’s lives.

Because Brittany lives in Tuscarawas County, when her parents go to court to settle how they will continue to raise the child they both love, they will be presented with a local parenting time rule of the Tuscarawas County Court of Common Pleas that treats them both equally and presumes that they will continue to be equally involved in the day-to-day responsibilities of raising Brittany.

Amy, though, lives in Lawrence County. When her parents go to court to address these matters, they will be presented with a local rule of the Lawrence County Court of Common Pleas that is a relic of the 1950s. The rule in force in Lawrence County presumes that one parent, and only one parent, will be the residential parent; the other parent will be sidelined. Under the Lawrence County rule, Amy will be in the care of one of her parents only every other weekend and one evening each week for four hours.

Brittany will have two fully engaged parents, both doing all of the ordinary parenting activities that are so important to a child’s development and well-being. Amy will have one parent fully engaged in these tasks, and one parent with whom she “visits” for only about 15 percent of her childhood during the school year. One parent is likely to be overwhelmed with parental responsibilities and the other is now marginalized in Amy’s life.

The court rules that the two girls’ families face are entirely under the control of the courts of common pleas of the two counties. Judges Edward O’Farrell and Elizabeth Thomakos of Tuscarawas County have crafted a parenting time schedule that reflects the best scientific evidence about outcomes for children of divorced parents. (See https://www.sharedparenting.org/articles.) Judge Ballard has not. (See https://www.sharedparenting.org/ohio-parenting-time-report.)

Because Judge Ballard does not face a challenger in the general election, he will certainly be re-elected. But that doesn’t mean that citizens of Lawrence County shouldn’t ask him some tough questions. Questions like: “What scientific research did you rely on in crafting your local parenting time rule?” and, importantly, “Why do you appear to believe that both of a child’s parents in Lawrence County are not as important to their children as the parents of Ashtabula, Carroll, Clermont, Holmes and Tucarawas County are to their children?”

For the sake of the children in Lawrence County, these questions demand answers.

Don Hubin, Ph.D., is the chair of National Parents Organization and Founding Director Emeritus of the Center for Ethics and Human Values at the Ohio State University.