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Landmark law has Oldham County roots

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By Amanda Manning

A Goshen man is the driving force behind a parenting law that is the first of its kind in the country.

Matt Hale, the Kentucky chairman of the National Parents Organization, has been working on a shared parenting law since 2012.

“The new law creates a presumption, a legal starting point, that equal time with both parents, if the parents are fit, is in the child’s best interest,” Hale explained.

The temporary order form of the bill passed unanimously in the House and Senate in April. The permanent order passed 81-2 in the House and unanimously in the Senate.

Kentucky is the first state to have a ‘legal presumption’ and pass the permanent custody order for shared parenting. The law has 11 factors, including distance apart and the parent’s mental health, which are used before equal parenting is approved for divorced or separated parents.

Gov. Matt Bevin ceremoniously signed the full custody bill Sept. 10 in Frankfort.

Hale said he saw the power of shared parenting after his family used it. “I wanted other families to have that same opportunity and other children to have the same opportunity to grow up in a positive environment,” he said.

Oldham County lawmakers Rep. Jason Nemes and Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne were sponsors of the bill.

“I understand it’s important that both parents be involved in the kid’s life,” Nemes said. “That’s the fundamental reason we did this. One of the things we need to do is that both parents are in their kid’s life, that we make it a priority that they stay close together in their physical location."

Hale says that hopefully the new law will reduce conflict.

“We’re going to see these horrible nasty child custody fights become the exemption instead of the norm,” Hale said. “No longer will a law pit one parent against the other in a ‘loser lose all winner take all’ battle. Now the law will encourage parents to work together to raise children.”

Rep. Osborne was the first lawmaker to sponsor the bipartisan bill.

“It received overwhelming support from both Republicans and Democrats,” Osborne said. “That’s always good when you get to do something in a bipartisan way that people kind of rally around to help families and kids.”

Osborne said that the state is leading the country in this bill.

“It’s interesting how many inquiries we’ve gotten from other states around the country who have been wanting to pass this type of legislation,” Osborne said. “We don’t get to be on the forefront of many things.”

The law is also popular with parents, according to Hale.

“Having parents call me in tears thanking me for what’s happened here is an experience that I’ll never forget,” he said. “It’s an amazing feeling to know that I helped work on a law that is going to help so many of Kentucky’s kids and eventually go nationwide and help all of America’s kids.”

Hale, and legislators, want to see the law throughout the country now.

“The hope is that we take it from Kentucky and get it across the country and protect kids in other states,” Nemes said. “Kentucky has the best law now in the country.”