Jason Griffith, Opinion contributor for Cincinnati.com provided an insightful piece on this new legislation that took affect this month titled “Opinion: Black fathers benefit from Ky.’s new joint custody law“. House Bill 582 makes Kentucky the first state to have a shared parenting from the beginning.
On July 14, Kentucky became the first state with a shared parenting starting point for child custody when families end.
House Bill 528 received bipartisan support from Democrats and Republicans in Kentucky’s legislature. The House of Representatives passed it with an 81-2 vote, while the Senate gave unanimous approval. Gov. Matt Bevin signed it into law in late April. This historic piece of legislation will specifically benefit African-American families.
This new law assumes equal parenting time is best for children. Primary custody is an outdated concept in America’s family court system and creates unnecessary strain on the children when parents choose separate or divorce. Shared parenting’s definition is equal physical parenting time, plus “joint custody,” which is equal decision-making. It works because children do much better when they have regular contact with two loving parents.
In particular, African-American fathers in Kentucky will have a new starting point in determining custody. A 2014 study in the Berkeley Journal of African-American Law & Policy concluded that extreme challenges exist in obtaining parental rights due to stereotypes surrounding African-American masculinity. According to the findings, “Though unmarried, noncustodial black fathers are more likely to visit and spend time with their children than unmarried, noncustodial fathers of other races, black men must contend with the stereotype that they are Absent Black Fathers when they enter the courtroom.”
Without this law, unfortunate trends for single African-American fathers could continue. For instance, the Berkeley Journal study concluded, “As a result of the economic obligations noncustodial fathers face, the definition of a good father post-divorce or post-separation has become synonymous with the ability to pay child support.”
That’s what makes the new Kentucky law such an important moment both nationally and locally. The law states that “joint custody and equally shared parenting time is in the best interest of the child.” There are also 11 factors considered to make sure parents qualify for this important opportunity, and any finding of domestic violence history disqualifies a parent from assumed shared rights.
For this reason, Kentucky now leads the nation in shared parenting. Only a handful of states have these types of laws, but about 25 more have considered similar legislation this year.
In my role as National Parents Organization’s minority outreach director, I have worked to overcome how African-Americans are more likely to be treated unfairly in family court. I spoke with both African-American state Sen. Reggie Thomas and Sen. Gerald Neal about this legislation. Both enthusiastically supported and voted for HB 528, knowing its potential to help all of their constituents, which includes a diverse population. The law will make it easier for every fit parent, no matter his or her race, to have equal parenting time.
Many experts, including the National Parents Organization, have already hailed this as the best shared parenting law in the country. Dr. Ryan Schroeder, chair of the University of Louisville’s Sociology Department, testified in support of this effort, saying, “The research on shared parenting is remarkably clear. Children who go through a divorce fare much better when they have equal, or as close to equal as they can get, parenting time.”
I am excited for the families, and specifically the children, in Kentucky to have this new day approaching. We should applaud the hard work of lawmakers and celebrate the benefits for The Bluegrass State.
Jason Griffith is the Kentucky minority outreach director for the National Parents Organization.