2019 Peck Law Firm Scholarship Winner

We are honored to announce the winner of our fourth annual Peck Law Firm Scholarship. Four years ago, our divorce law firm decided to sponsor a yearly scholarship to help assist exemplary students pay for their college education. We recognize that college tuition has continued to grow significantly in the past decade — and we expect the scholarships we award to help offset these costs.

For our 2019 contest, we asked our applicants to respond to the following essay question: “Should judges start child custody cases with a presumption that fathers and mothers should have equal time with their children after a divorce?”

We received over 500 applications this year, which is more than the previous three years combined! We read through each of the essays and chose the winner based on the merit of their writing. We did not consider their gender, race, age, place where they live, or where they plan to attend school. After countless hours of consideration, we found the one essay that stood out from the rest.

The writer of that essay — and winner of the 2019 Peck Law Firm Scholarship — is Gavin Sziber. We are paying $2,000 toward his school expenses this year.

Gavin just turned 18 years old and lives in Alliance, Ohio. He graduated from Ohio Virtual Academy earlier this year, which is an online charter public school.

Gavin has been attending Stark State College in Canton, Ohio for the past five years through College Credit Plus (CCP) as a dual-enrolled high school and college student. His goal is to graduate from college without any debt. So far, he has been able to complete 60 credit hours with no cost to him or his family. He currently has two semesters remaining and expects to continue using the online class format to finish his degree in Accounting—Computer Information. The online format has allowed him to juggle school, part-time work at Panera Bread, a lawn service business, and volunteering.

He was adopted out of the foster care system at the age of two and because of this has strong beliefs when it comes to child custody and the law. These firm beliefs and the thought-provoking essay question really encouraged him to participate in the Peck Law Firm scholarship essay contest.

In addition to accounting, Gavin enjoys riding his bike, reading, playing board games with friends, logic puzzles, baking, collecting coins, hiking, and visiting U.S. National Parks with his family.

We are extremely proud of Gavin and have posted his winning essay below.

We thank everyone who submitted an application this year. We enjoyed reading all of your thoughtful essays and differing perspectives. We are in the process of deciding whether we will continue our scholarship for a fifth year, and will post any updates regarding this to our blog.

Here is Gavin’s winning essay:

After divorce, it is common for loving parents to want sole custody of the children. Each parent may believe that they are more capable of raising the child than the other parent. Should judges start child custody cases with a presumption that fathers and mothers should have equal time with their children after a divorce? The simple answer is yes unless there is a valid reason for one party not to have child rights. I believe that judges should start child custody cases with joint custody as the standard because it is healthier for the child. Joint custody will help a child to become more accustomed to the fact that both their parents are no longer together and to have some sort of stability in their lives. It will help them to cope with the challenging times that their family is in and allow them to be able to communicate with both of their parents.

In 2017, more than 20 states started to investigate some sort of joint-custody laws. In 2015, there were only two states, Wisconsin and South Dakota, that actively encouraged joint custody of a child between parents. Results from a survey that questioned 150,000 people about this very topic showed that the vast majority supported the idea of a shared parenting arrangement after a divorce. How would the courts even decide whether to start a child custody case with a presumption for equal time between both parents with a child?

In most states, the law says that child custody is dependent on what is in the “best interests of the child”. How are best interests decided? The courts look at five different factors, including the child’s safety, the child’s age, the evidence of parenting ability, the consistency factor, and how big the impact would be on the child’s existing routine. Combining all these factors is how the court decides which parent is better equipped to care for the child. However, if these factors show one parent is more well suited than the other to care for the child, then why does joint custody even need to be considered? Let us look at some of the reasons for this type of court order.

Children start creating bonds with their parents by the time that they are 8 weeks old. Therefore, the loss of a parent is one of the most upsetting events a child can suffer. As a child ages and become more attached, the more difficult it would be for them to be able to let go of one parent. Thus, a joint custody order is more beneficial for a child. Instead of having to push a parent out of the child’s life, a joint custody order allows the child time to see both parents. Recently, there has been a new type of custody arrangement called birds nest custody that allows the child to stay permanently at their home while the parents take turns living in the house and caring for the child. This helps younger children to have stability rather than disrupting their routine. Whether using the bird’s nest method or not, it allows the divorce to be not as severe on the child and allows there to be more benefits for everyone involved. What are the benefits of joint parental custody?

Some benefits to joint custody are that children have a higher self-esteem and better academic records when both parents are active in their lives. Federal statistics show that children with both their parents in their lives are more likely to stay out of jail, stay away from drugs and alcohol, and avoid teen pregnancy and depression. Also, the children can maintain contact and continue to build their relationships with each of their parents. All these benefits come from having both parents in a child’s life. Joint custody does not only benefit the child. Both parents benefit as well from a joint custody court order. A joint custody court order means that one parent does not have to play the role of both father and mother. Research also shows that fathers that only have visitation rights are eight times as likely to commit suicide than fathers that have more parental involvement in their children’s lives. All these benefits show that if one parent is removed out of the family, there can be devastating consequences for both parents as well as the child.

Joint custody is just one option, it is, in my opinion, the most beneficial type of custody when both parents have been deemed suitable. It provides benefits to the child as well as the parent and it allows the child to continue to create bonds with both parents rather than just the one. Many states are now encouraging joint custody as it has been scientifically proven to be the more beneficial type of agreement in a child custody case for all those involved.