Matt Hale

Matt Hale, Kentucky chairman of the National Parents Organization

FRANKFORT Recently, Kentucky lawmakers made our state the first to have "shared parenting", which is equal child custody time if both parents are fit and meet certain safeguards for kids.

The shared parenting bill has been called the most popular law our state passed this year. It was extremely popular with the legislators passing the House 81-2 and the Senate unanimously. Further, polling has shown that Kentucky's citizens approve of the law by a factor of about six to one.

Earlier this month Kentucky's voters rendered their verdict on the nation's first true joint custody law. There was a direct correlation between winning percentage of contested races and lawmakers’ support of the bill. Of the contested House races, 100 percent of the sponsors won, 90 percent of those who voted yes won, 80 percent of those who did not vote won and zero percent of those who voted no won. In fact, every sponsor of the bill running won despite 14 seats changing parties. 

There was only one shared parenting opponent, Linda Belcher, on the ballot. She was crushed by 20 points after her vote against the joint custody law even though she easily won her last election by 37 points.

Belcher even had a large fundraising advantage as of Sept. 17 of $39,695 to her opponent, Thomas Huff’s, $15,369. Worse yet, Belcher was the only incumbent educator to lose in the year of unprecedented teacher energy. Belcher’s unforced error on the shared parenting bill appears to have cost her dearly.

The Senate results are very telling also even though the new law passed the Senate unanimously. Dorsey Ridley was the only Senate incumbent to lose. Like all senators, he voted for the joint custody bill.

Ridley’s problem was that it was his opponent Robbie Mill’s bill. Mills sponsored the shared parenting bill and campaigned heavily on it. He even invited joint custody supporters to speak at his rallies. Ridley’s loss cannot be explained by partisanship because while Republican Mills won the senate seat his old house seat, which is a large part of the senate district, was won by the Democrats.

Ridley’s loss cannot be explained by money either. He massively outraised Mills $168,970 to $61,970 as of Sept. 17. Ridley quite simply got “out shared parented” by Mills.

Another Democrat, Robin Webb, had a very different history with shared parenting legislation than Ridley. Webb sponsored a shared parenting law herself in previous years. She met with shared parenting advocates repeatedly and spoke out in committee meetings in support. She even appeared on the front page of her local paper (which officially endorsed the shared parenting law) supporting joint custody a few weeks before the election.

Webb was the only Democrat to win a contested Senate election this year. One final senate note, the only open senate seat was won by, you guessed it, a shared parenting supporter. Matt Castlen won Senate district 8 by a comfortable 16 points after voting for the law.

Every Senate and House race is different and affected by many factors. However, the polls and election results clearly show that a candidate’s support of joint custody is a very important factor. Lawmakers who want to win embrace the fact that kids need to see both parents if the parents are healthy.

Winning lawmakers realize that family law should not create parental conflict through exorbitant child support or acceptance of false abuse claims. Winning lawmakers know the voters’ decisions are affected by shared parenting support.

Now that the voters have spoken on the lawmakers the next step is at hand. Voters will make it easier for judges who support shared parenting to win. Judges make many shared parenting votes in case after case rather than one vote like the lawmakers. Instead, judges will need to implement the new law completely in one case at a time. Quite simply, judges with a good reputation for shared parenting will find it easier to win.

Congratulations to all the winning lawmakers in both parties who wisely supported the most popular law of the year. Good luck to all the judges who are up next over the next several years. We have faith in you that you will do what is best for kids by ruling for joint custody whenever possible.

The voters are watching and will support you when you support shared parenting. And why wouldn’t anyone support shared parenting? Kentucky’s kids are wonderful and they deserve both parents.

Matt Hale is the Kentucky chairman of the National Parents Organization. He can be reached at mhale@nationalparentsorganization.org.