Monday, September 14, 2009

Parenting Time and Visitation: Should Ohio Employers be Required to Facilitate?

     Nothing is more precious than the time we spend with our children. Apparently some of Ohio's legislators have taken note.

    Ohio HB 40, introduced in late February of 2009 by State Representative Tom Letson and co-sponsored by 16 other State Representives, would require certain employers with 50 plus employees to allow a parent to exercise court-ordered parenting time without terminating employment, reducing pay, or taking other similar action against the parent.

     If passed, HB 40 would give irresponsible parents just one more way to escape obligation and pass it on to someone else: the employer. Parents have a high degree of control over what the court may order for a visitation schedule. First, the parents can agree on a visitation schedule taking into account each other's employment. Second, even where the mother and father are fighting about visitation, courts work to ensure parents time doesn't conflict with employment. If there is no way around a conflict, divorced parents, like married parents, need to make daycare arrangements.

     Not all family oriented legislation is bad. I contrast this proposed legislation with Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requiring certain employers to provide requiring unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child; acquiring a foster child; the serious illness of a child, spouse, or parent; and, the serious illness of the employee. FMLA, in effect since the early nineties, works because it covers serious often unavoidable circumstances where time away from work is required.

     According to the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, which opposes the legislation, the Ohio Judiciary Committee "heard proponent testimony from two unions. Throughout the testimony several committee members on both sides of the isle raised concerns about the bill. The following concerns were raised about the effect of such legislation: 1) the prohibition of reducing pay for a parent who takes time off and does not complete a full work week, 2) situations under the bill where the only employees working on Saturdays would be those who were not divorced, 3) providing such a benefit to those divorced employees with children at the expense of other employees, 4) the lack of labor organizations negotiating such parenting-time provisions into labor contracts, and 5) the fact that no other state has enacted a similar proposal."

     The concerns raised by committee members are well-founded.  Why does Ohio want to be the first state with legislation that, in effect, benefits divorced employees at the expense of others? Hard to understand what is truly motivating this legislation.  Note to the sponsors of HB 40: parents, not employers, need to be responsbile for parenting time schedules.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Grandparents Caring for Grandchildren without the Custody Battle: Ohio’s Caretaker Power of Attorney

        U.S. census figures indicate that some 6.7 million children in the United States are being raised by grandparents and other relatives. That's roughly one in 12 children, about 10 times the number of children in the U.S. foster care system. Often, grandparents are raising their grandchildren without having any legal custody, making it difficult for them to access services of any kind. Grand families, a term referring to situations where children are being raised by grandparents or other relatives, exist for many reasons, often because the parent(s) face a temporary crisis, such as a serious illness, financial problem, or lack of housing.
       In 2004, the Ohio Legislature addressed this problem by creating the caretaker power of attorney through which parents consent to the grandparent having parental rights and responsibilities for the children on a temporary basis. This parental consent to the grandparent(s) care allows the children to have access to educational and medical services which, in the past, might have been denied absent an order granting the grandparent legal custody, an expensive and emotional proposition. By providing legal documentation to the grandparent caregiver who has consent of parents, the power of attorney eliminates expensive legal custody battles and/or children services intervention.
       The Ohio caretaker power of attorney currently may be used only to allow grandparents to have parental rights and responsibilities; it does not cover any other relative or other third party who may be providing for children. However, the Ohio Legislature is considering expanding the power of attorney to allow other third parties, beyond grandparents, to act as caretakers. See 2009  Ohio HB 197, introduced in the Ohio House of Representatives in May, 2009.
       Intended to cover only temporary situations where parents are unable to care for their children, the power of attorney cannot be effective for longer than a one year period. The power of attorney may grant the grandparent the custodial parent’s rights and responsibilities regarding the care, physical custody, and control of the child, including the ability to enroll the child in school, receive information from the school, consent to school related matters and medical treatment. Notably, the power of attorney does not act as a grant of legal custody to the grandparent nor does it affect the rights of the parent in any future legal proceedings.
       The Ohio statute governing caretaker powers of attorney prescribes the form and content that must be used as well as specific notices that must be given. In most situations, the power of attorney must be signed by both parents. It must be filed with the juvenile court where the grandparent resides within 5 days of its creation.
       No court hearing is required to make the caretaker power of attorney effective, provided that it is the first power of attorney. Should subsequent powers of attorney be filed, the court is required to schedule a hearing no later than 10 days after filing.
      The Ohio Legislature’s creation of the grandparent caretaker power of attorney provides a cost effective way for grandparents to care for grandchildren in situations where parents are temporarily unable to do so and consent to the arrangement. I urge the Ohio Legislature to adopt 2009 Ohio HB 197 to expand the power of attorney beyond grandparents so that others caring for children may have an easier time getting access to education and medical services.
       For more information contact Carol L. Gasper at